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We Will Never Forget

fire helmet, USA flag, bell

By Vivian Mason

To commemorate the anniversary of September 11, 2001, three USU medical students, who were also former firefighters, reflect on their experiences of the day that forever changed our Nation.

woman tracing name from 9/11 memorial 
Chief select Danielle Marbley taking a rubbing from the memorial of her friend Chief Information Systems Technician Gregg Smallwood, who died during the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. (Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Travis Simmons/Released) 

Ensign Margaret Black, U.S. Navy
Class of 2023
Former Volunteer Exterior Firefighter/EMT, Peru, NY

In 2016, I became a volunteer firefighter in Peru, a small town in upstate New York. My sister [ENS Johanna Meyer] had joined the department several years before me and had a wonderful experience as a Volunteer Interior Firefighter. I wasn’t as highly trained as she was. I only did exterior support, which involved hooking up the hydrants, traffic management, cleaning up after car accidents, clearing branches, pumping out basements, etc. It was a great experience.

9/11 happened the day before my college classes were supposed to start. It was all pretty shocking. I was in New Jersey for school, but had family in New York City and was quite concerned about them. A bunch of my relatives worked in the city and had to evacuate on foot over the bridges.

I have an emotional connection to New York City because my mother’s family is from there, and we visited a lot. So, the devastation was very upsetting. I later lived in New York for seven years, and I met a lot of people who had lived there during 9/11. Most of the people I knew didn’t work in the financial sector, but everyone was affected. It was a visceral kind of thing for most people.

I remember going through the city a week after the attacks, and there were all of these American flags hanging off the buildings. Flags were draped everywhere. It was amazing to see this kind patriotism and resilience in the people of New York City. Of course, there were also negative changes. It was a very different world from the one that we had previously known. When I went to Penn Station, there were now soldiers with guns and dogs. When I moved to New York City several years later, that had become the standard. I went to Penn Station every day, and it was always like that.

Why I will never forget 9/11: 9/11 was the biggest national security event that I had experienced. I’d always read about how events like Pearl Harbor changed people’s view of the world. There was before and then there was after. I felt that 9/11 was one of those kinds of events. I think that it’s important to remember the sacrifice of so many lives on that day and the families of the victims. The heroes of 9/11 are a continual inspiration to all of those who serve in the armed forces and who serve their communities. These were normal men and women who lost their lives protecting their fellow citizens. We should always remember them and honor their sacrifice.

Man in fire gear
Air Force 2nd Lt. Austin Nelson, currently a first-year medical student at USU, trained to become a firefighter at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, California. (Facebook photo by San Angelo Standard-Times)  
2nd Lt Austin Nelson, U.S. Air Force
Class of 2023 
Former Firefighter/EMT with Nebraska Air National Guard
Deployed in 2019 as a Firefighter with the U.S. Air Force

Actually, I was 11 years old when 9/11 happened, so the majority of my memories are primarily from hearing about it at school and seeing it on television. Because I lived far from New York City, not many families were directly impacted in the immediate aftermath.

About six years ago, I became a firefighter. It was a lucky chance. I really had no idea of what I wanted to do, so I thought I’d become a firefighter. I was with the Nebraska Air National Guard. I already had my EMT license, so it seemed like a good fit for me. I was leaning toward medical school anyway, and everything kind of synced up for me.

I haven’t been a firefighter that long. All those stair climbs remind me of how many people risked their lives. It’s kind of cool being a part of that brotherhood. Firefighters are a very tight-knit group … almost militaristic because you can build those same kinds of bonds.

I just recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan this July. While there, I was a firefighter with my previous unit. We handled brush fires, indirect fires, etc. Going on that deployment was very important to me. I met a couple of firefighters from New York who had been hired after 9/11 as a consequence of losing so many people.

From a firefighting perspective, I mostly think about how 9/11 changed things for the better in the profession. Afterward, a National Incident Management System was created so that people from all over the country could work together if such a large incident ever happened again. The policies and standards that come from 9/11 really shaped my growing up in the fire department and has spread to organizations like FEMA.

Why I will never forget 9/11: Hopefully, no one will ever forget it. It’s the loss of life and all of the consequences that have come from that. We’ve been at war for the last 18 years, which greatly influenced my joining the military and then going to Afghanistan. It had a particular impact on me and influenced the direction of my life.

men in military uniform saluting the American flag 
First responders salute a large American flag as it is unfurled over the west side of the Pentagon. During the 9/11 attacks, 184 people were killed at the Pentagon. (Image credit: DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro) 
Ensign Johanna Meyer, U.S. Navy
Class of 2020 
Former Volunteer Interior Firefighter/EMT, Peru, NY 

During my training as an EMT following grad school, I was invited to join the local fire department, which introduced me to some of the most amazing and dedicated people I have ever met. Every day, these men and women take time out of their day to stop and help someone in need. Over the course of three years, I became more and more involved, becoming an Interior Firefighter, joining the local Search and Rescue Team, and eventually being recruited to help train EMS, firefighters, and police officers at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany, NY. This is a unique facility that allows first responders to train together in very realistic circumstances. They not only use actors and moulage [mock injuries], but have also recreated an entire city street, a collapsed parking garage, a school, and a variety of other venues so that first responders are better prepared to come together in the event of another disaster, on whatever scale.

Why I will never forget 9/11: On 9/11, I think of the extraordinary sacrifice and courage of those men and women, and I only hope that some day I can live up to that sacrifice.