Today we are here paying tribute and honoring so many. The events of both 9/11 attacks caused us to pray, made us angry, made us cry, made us sit in stunned silence, wondering why?
But as Americans, we did what those who attacked never counted on. We found courage. And from that courage, came heroic acts that inspired us. We cannot forget the tragic loss of life, nor should we ever, but it was the recognition of bravery, the tireless efforts and endless dedication that made it possible to see our way forward.
Selfishly, because of my profession, I held out hope that as many firefighters as possible, would be pulled from the rubble alive, only to realize that those doing the digging were looking for “anyone” to be alive.
It wasn’t long before the world could see the rescue efforts. We all saw the images, Firefighters digging through the rubble, night and day, looking for civilians, looking for their coworkers and in some cases, their relatives who they worked the same stations with. They were there, digging for anyone and everyone. The names of these rescuers remain unknown to most of us. Just images of men and women in turnout gear, dirty and tired, they just kept working they just kept digging.
In an unexpected way, I learned the story of one of those nameless rescuers and so I’d like to share it with you. This is the Story Badge 1456.
For 8 years, this Firefighter worked at a fairly busy Fire Department in Colorado, prior to becoming “New York Firefighter, Badge Number 1456”. The move was made in order to work for a large Metropolitan Fire Department, to run more calls and enhance his skill set.
On the morning of 9/11/2001, Badge 1456 was visiting the County Courthouse in the town of Carmel New York. Someone there was talking about a plane hitting a building in Manhattan. They didn’t sound too excited so it didn’t seem like much at the time. It wasn’t long until the tone of the conversation changed, as they talked about a second plane hitting a second building that both planes had hit the World Trade Center and the planes were commercial jet liners.
Since this was in his response area, 1456 got on the highway headed for Manhattan. As he got closer it became obvious something was wrong, that few if any cars were headed in his direction, but hundreds were headed in the opposite direction. Just as he arrived at his station, his rig “33 Truck” was pulling out.
Since it was around shift exchange when the towers were hit, most every station had extra personnel and his engine was overloaded with Firefighters. They waited just long enough for him to grab his gear and jump on. By now the city of New York and put out a total recall of all its public safety personnel, amounting to thousands of employees.
1456 and his crew arrived in a staging area, where city busses came to shuttle them to the Towers. This was done to try and keep some Fire Engines available to run the routine calls not related to the disaster.
After a while, the busses stopped showing up, so those remaining in staging, jumped in the pick-up trucks and cars of the fellow Firefighters who had arrived on their own. By the time they arrived, both World Trade Center buildings had collapsed. Fortunate though it may have been, 1456 new all too well what that
Meant. Sent from another staging ground his assignment was fire suppression of the 47 story Building 7 which had caught fire from the debris of the north towers collapse.
Previously evacuated, it too eventually collapsed as a result of the fire.
Realizing all that could be done was being done already, 1456 who was trained in Confined Space Rescue, made his way to what was left of the Twin Towers to see what he could do.
His search began on a 40 story high pile of concrete, glass and twisted metal. It was near his location, where a lone United States Marine, discovered 3 trapped New York Port Authority workers some 30 feet below. As part of a specialized crew, 1456 worked top side on their rescue, providing communication, sending down supplies and equipment to those working below. He also searched alternate holes and pockets for a better way to reach them. He was among the first to grab the sleds as they were brought to the surface.
And so it went. After 72 straight hours of searching, he was given a rest of 8 hours. He used this break time to shop the local Sears store, to buy as many dust masks as he could find because the holes he crawled through were too small for him to wear his breathing apparatus. Without rest, he went back “on the pile” as they called it.
The remaining work for 1456 was all too grim. The discovery of a countless deceased civilians, or that of a coworker became all too familiar. In most cases, he was only able to mark the location, as they could not be freed from the wreckage.
For Badge 1456, the days of digging turned into weeks. Exhaustive efforts done in the hope of a rescue, became the sullen task of victim recovery. With each victim, he found, he knew someone, somewhere, would get closure. And that is how he kept going. Eventually the time would come, when the New York Fire Department would begin to return to some form of normal operations, although everyone knew that nothing would ever be normal again. Badge number 1456 returned to his station but his work on “the pile” did not end. He began splitting his duties between regular station duties and returning to Ground Zero until around May of 2002. 10 months.
It wouldn’t be long until he would have the first surgery to correct a respiratory condition caused from inhalation of materials at The Twin Towers.
Late at night on March 16th, of 2006 while asleep on the couch at his station, Badge 1456 awoke to find the right side of his body completely paralyzed. He yelled for someone to help him, only to realize he couldn’t speak.
Unable to be heard and knowing he had to get help, with his one good arm, he managed to push himself off the couch, hitting the floor and hoping it would make some noise. Paralyzed and mute, he laid there for over 30 minutes, until a coworker, his closest friend found him. He had suffered a major Stroke.
1456 never worked on a Fire Engine again. The cause of his Stroke is was tied to the prolonged inhalation of toxins at the site of the World Trade Center collapse.
Eventually he recovered, but after 25 years in the Fire Service, 17 of those years with the New York Fire department, Badge1456 was forced to retire.
Over the years when people would ask about the work he did at the Twin Towers, he was often heard to say in a humble voice:
“I wasn’t there alone, there were hundreds of guys like me doing the same thing I was doing, it was a big team”.
So now we know the story of FDNY Badge Number 14 One of the rescuers among hundreds of nameless faces. But today we will change that, today we will thank him by name. And although he doesn’t like the spotlight, today, we get to say thank you in person.
Ladies and Gentlemen, will you please join me in honoring the man who so proudly wore Badge number 1456, New York Firefighter and Somers resident Steve Naso.