South Mississippi Strong: Firefighter reflects on impact of 9/11 on first responder community

South Mississippi Strong: Firefighter reflects on impact of 9/11 on first responder community

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s a day seared into the collective memory of Americans. This Friday marks 19 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The day takes on a special meaning for many first responders because so many of them made sacrifices that day.

Sept. 11 takes on a special meaning for many first responders because so many of them made sacrifices that day.
Sept. 11 takes on a special meaning for many first responders because so many of them made sacrifices that day. (Source: WLOX)

“We’ve got a job to do and that job is dangerous sometimes,” said Capt. Stephen Dunaway with the Biloxi Fire Department. "Sometimes you’re in a fire and it’s hot and you’re getting pushed down to the floor and it goes through your mind ‘What in the world am I doing in here?’ you know.

“But you just do what you’ve got to do. You go in there and face it and put the fire out and you’re searching for victims or cut someone out of a car, whatever the emergency is.”

Dunaway started his public service career as a police officer and became a firefighter by accident, but he wouldn’t trade his 22 years with the department for anything.

“Everyone is always happy when the fire department comes because we’re just there to help, to help you, and that really appealed to me, the sense of giving something to the community when they need you the most,” he said.

Of course, there is that rush of adrenaline when the alarm goes off.

Dunaway: “We’re immediately amped up. Everybody comes out of their bed, off of that chair, and we’re running to get to that truck because we know what’s at stake. It’s not just about losing property, but someone could be in there dying, and sometimes they are and sometimes they do, and we want to get there as fast as we can and take some kind of action and minimize the loss and minimize the damage that’s happening," Dunaway said.

Sept. 11 marks 19 years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
Sept. 11 marks 19 years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. (Source: WLOX)

Seeing the firefighters respond to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, brought the awareness of his job to another level for Dunaway.

“Just watching it unfold and ultimately the buildings collapsed just crushed everybody. It affected our spirits and our hearts were with them,” he said.

Dunaway hadn’t been a firefighter for very long, but he knew the impact would be lasting.

“It fundamentally changed the fire service and how we see ourselves, not so much as a group of guys at your particular department or station, but a bigger whole. It kind of gave you a broader sense of community, a nationwide sense of community with the job,” he said.

Dunaway encourages anyone who thinks they might want to become a firefighter to call their local department.

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