SEP 15, 2001

Heroes Amid the Horror

New York Times on the web

The cruel list of those missing and presumed dead at the World Trade Center now hovers at around 5,000. But as President Bush noted during his visit to the site yesterday, that toll would have been even higher were it not for the extraordinary valor of the firefighters, police officers and emergency service workers who ran to the disaster scene to help. Some dashed into the collapsing towers to pull out people trapped in the chaos and falling debris. Many lost their lives.

Firefighters stand apart from the rest of us, simply by the fact that they are trained to run toward a blaze and not away from it. That impulse, which amounts to a special vocation, is their greatest tool in protecting their communities. On Tuesday that learned instinct drew many of them into the World Trade Center at a time when the burning fuel from two crashed jetliners was creating heat that could buckle steel. There were people in those buildings, and the firefighters went to get them. The losses were staggering. Among those listed as missing or dead are 350 New York City firefighters, including some of the department's top leaders William Feehan, the first deputy commissioner; Peter Ganci, the chief of department; Raymond Downey, the chief of special operations; and the Rev. Mychal Judge, the department chaplain. The overall toll is nearly 30 times the number of firefighters ever lost before by the department in a single event a statistic that puts into perspective the dangers professional firefighters face and the catastrophic nature of Tuesday's terrorist attack.

Missing too, and presumed dead, are about 40 New York City police officers, and at least 30 members of the Port Authority police. Collectively, the names of these individuals make up an honor roll that will forever be etched in the memory of everyone who lived through this week's terrible events, and in the city's historical record.

That record will show that at a moment of supreme national horror, New Yorkers were fortunate to have at the ready a remarkably brave cadre of firefighters, police officers, emergency personnel and volunteers from around the country. Pushing aside thoughts about their own personal safety and grief for fallen colleagues, they gave the world a vision of the valor and selflessness that is the best face of America.

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