The word “hero” is often misused, declaring celebrities as the one we have all been waiting for. We attribute them a talent or other star-like characteristics that might not exist once they close the front door behind them.
Real heroes are at work every day: rescue workers like firefighters policemen and women, doctors and nurses in overcrowded hospitals, or in war zones. Oftentimes heroes are just like you and me, saving a child from being run over by a car or caring for animals who were abandoned by their owners.
When I think of heroes, I think of firemen, especially those that made incredible sacrifices on 9/11. When they ran up 70 flights of staircases with heavy tools strapped to their backs, they knew there was a real chance they would not make it out alive.
Yet, some did.
Sadly, some didn’t.
Of the 2,977 victims killed in the September 11 attacks, 412 were emergency workers in New York City who responded to the World Trade Center. This included:
- 343 firefighters (including a chaplain and two paramedics) of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY);
- 37 police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department (PAPD);
- 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department (NYPD); and
- 8 emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private emergency medical services
- 1 patrolman from the New York Fire Patrol
Some time ago I stumbled upon a web page showing staggering 9/11 photographs in Time Magazine by James Nachtwey, a photo journalist and war photographer. When I noticed how tiny rescue workers were against the backdrop of a huge pileup of wrought metal, human bodies and utter devastation, it was clear what rescue workers were up against.
In my humble opinion, heroes are born and made of people who are willing to go beyond what is asked of them in order to save lives.
On 9/11, the world stopped turning for a while.
Heroes were born and died on 9/11.
This is for them.
All photos come courtesy of James Nachtwey.
To visit TIME’s Beyond 9/11: A Portrait of Resilience, a project that chronicles 9/11 and its aftermath, click here
For more about emergency workers on 9/11:
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2017.