CT Guard firefighters train, honor 9/11 firefighters

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tamara R. Dabney
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

Firefighters assigned to the Connecticut National Guard recently conducted their two-week annual training. This year, the training took on a special meaning as one of the training dates happened to fall on the 19th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

On the morning of September 11, 2020, Connecticut Guard firefighters gathered at Connecticut Fire Academy in Windsor Locks to conduct structural live fire training. Before the training began, the Guardsmen participated in a ceremony at the Connecticut Firefighter’s Memorial led by Fire academy staff in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. A steel beam taken from the World Trade Center wreckage towered above the Guardsmen as they stood before the monument and rendered a salute in honor of the firefighters who risked their lives on that day.

Minutes after the conclusion of the ceremony, the Guardsmen were in full firefighting gear, extinguishing a fire in the basement of a two-story building as part of a training exercise. The ceremony and training brought about somber feelings for Army Specialist Scott Whalen, a firefighter assigned to the 256th Engineer Battalion, but he also felt inspired.

“The ceremony out in front of the fire academy kind of just makes it a special day,” said Whalen. “It just makes the day even better that we get to train hard, train with each other and remember all of our fallen heroes.”

As the sun shined above him, Whalen recalled that the weather in Newington, Connecticut was also sunny and “beautiful” on the morning of September 11, 2001. Whalen was a young child in 2001, but he remembers how his life changed after learning about the September 11 attacks and watching firefighters on television respond to the crisis. The courage of those first responders inspired Whalen to become a firefighter, upholding a tradition in his family that goes back five generations.

“I remember how beautiful it was outside and then I just remember going home to my family and my parents sat me down and broke the news,” said Whalen. “Watching those brave souls walk into the World Trade Center that day, I feel like it can make an impact on anybody's life. Between that and being a fifth-generation firefighter, it definitely had an influence on me.”

Like Whalen, Air Force Master Sgt. Zachary Daniel, assistant chief of training for the 103rd Civil Engineer Fire Department, hails from a family of first responders. The training and ceremony also brought back fond memories for him.

“It's a surreal feeling,” said Daniel. “It brings you back to where you were that day and it sparks emotions with the events surrounding it.”

The training included multiple scenarios in which firefighters were tasked with rescuing burn victims and responding to alarms, which prepares Guard firefighters to save lives should they be faced with a real catastrophic event. According to Daniel, scheduling the structural live fire training on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks was unintentional, but he is grateful for the opportunity to train on a day that was set aside to honor the sacrifices of his fellow firefighters.

“We don’t typically train like this on 9/11,” said Daniel. “It's just a heck of a coincidence that we are able to train and honor fallen firefighters on the same day.”