LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – A tragic day Americans will never forget it September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center towers were hit by American airplanes hijacked by the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda.
Nearly 3,000 people died, out of those lost lives, 343 were firefighters. At the La Crosse Fire Department’s training tower, the number “343” is written on the building to remember those fallen firefighters. First responders and others who were at the Trade Center site continue to suffer illnesses and die.
Blane Neher, the Captain with the La Crosse Fire Department, said he remembers the tragedy like it was yesterday.
“It was heartbreaking to see firefighters rush into those two buildings and try to save people; you knew when those towers were coming down that they were going to perish, so it was pretty hard to watch,” Neher said. “Those firefighters worked to help people, trying to do their job, that they were meant to do; they made the ultimate sacrifice for that community, that city.”
Byron Stein, an E.M.T. with the La Crosse Fire Department, said he was at his parent’s house at the time of the attack, watching it on television.
“I was at my parent’s house at the time right after the first plane hit, and then we were watching the television when the second plane came in,” Stein said. “To watch those towers come down and knowing that those firefighters were in there at the time, it was just devastating; the reality of it was devastating.”
Neher said what sticks with him is the support the firefighters all around the country were shown immediately after 9/11.
“The biggest thing that I remember from that incident is walking in the Oktoberfest parade and the support that the community was giving the fire department, that was really touching, there were firefighters that actually had tears in their eyes when they were walking in that parade just from the support of the community,” Neher said.
Stein said as a firefighter, and speaking on behalf of all America’s first responders, they are here to help.
“I think that the one thing that 9/11 really brought home was that we at firefighters all realize we have a dangerous job, and we all try to do it safely as we can, but at the end, the reality is we are willing to lay down our lives to save other people, and I think everybody knows that, but I think 9/11 is what really absolutely brings it home,” said Stein.
As of July 23, 2019, the New York state senate voted 97-2 to permanently replenish the fund that would benefit police officers, firefighters and other first responders who suffered harm or were killed because of the September 11 terrorist attack. Without the reauthorization, the $7.4 billion funds would run out of money by December 2020.