On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked commercial airplanes and carried out a series of attacks that killed thousands, changing the world forever.
The Daily Independent spoke with local first responders this week to hear their recollections of that day and listen to their thoughts on those fallen heroes of September 11, 2001.
Ashland Fire Department Chief Greg Ray, who has been on the fire department for 28 years, recollected being on duty that day.
Ray was an engineer on the Ashland Fire Department at the time.
“We got up and started doing our daily routine, and one of the captains that day came in and said, ‘You guys got to see this,” said Ray. “We went in and saw the t.v. and couldn't believe it.”
Ray said he and his fellow firefighters watched the events develop with the rest of the world via news outlets on t.v. for the remainder of the day. His captain later returned to inform the men the area had been placed on alert.
“One of the planes turned around over our space here,” said Ray.
Ray said the following days were some of the most surreal moments as the nation grieved and came together.
“It touched a lot of people,” said Ray. “You didn't have to be there. The fire department is a brotherhood. We lost a record number of firefighters that day. We've never lost that many in any other event. We're in the same line of work.”
Ray said had he been a firefighter on ground zero that day he would have acted the same as the brave men and women that went in the towers to save others.
“They knew they had a job to do,” said Ray. “They went in. It makes you think what kind of sacrifices you're willing to make. I'd like to think any of us would have done the same thing that day.”
Ashland Fire Department Capt. Derrick Suttles said he, too was in disbelief when he first found out about the tragedies that day.
“I remember them going through, people still lost,” said Suttles. “But one thing I remember more than anything is it brought a lot of people together.”
Ashland Fire Department Deputy Chief Stephen Alley was working a shift at Station Two on Winchester Avenue when the attacks were reported.
“Once the buildings fell, we all looked at each other and knew how many people, how many firefighters were probably still in there,” said Alley. “That's what I remember the most, thinking that there was going to be a lot of casualties.”
Alley said he remembered thinking like a firefighter would at that time.
“I knew what would be going on in that situation, firefighters going in to mitigate the situation,” said Alley. “What people need to remember is the countless people they saved. Had they not been there, the count would have been overwhelmingly more, I think.”
“What they did, what they sacrificed, that only instilled in me more that this is what I should be doing,” said Ray. “They are heroes. To just read back on the stories that came out of it, you had men running in full bunker gear running miles just to get back in those buildings. Retired guys coming back in to try to help. It just made me want to be here on the fire department that much more.”
Ashland Police Department Chief Todd Kelley said he remembers the day of the attacks and the chilling call he received shortly after that.
Kelly was a lieutenant at the time, serving as a watch commander for Ashland police.
“We felt like this is more than just a plane crash,” said Kelley. “They showed the second plane hitting, myself and a retired officer, we were sitting there. He said this is no plane crash, it's deliberate. It was a short time afterwards the tone of the broadcast changed.”
Kelley said later in the morning while officers were out on patrol he received a call from 911 relaying information from the Federal Aviation Administration out of Louisville.
“They said one of the planes was lost and its signal was last over top of Ashland,” said Kelley. “They wanted to know if we were investigating a plane crash up here. One of the planes that was hijacked, it turned around right over Ashland. It turned off its transponder, so they lost it over the radio over here.”
Kelley said in addition to the respect his department shows those heroes who perished, he hopes that people remember those who gave their lives after the terrorist attack.
“There are those individuals that have fallen to tragedy because they worked that site,” said Kelley. “Cancers, illnesses, because of what they breathed in. Police officers have fallen to this day even though it's 18-years later, due to long-term injury or illness. It's not just that one day.”
Kelley said the lives saved that day were thanks to a cumulative effort.
“It's not just law enforcement,” said Kelley. “It's not just fire. It was how everyone came together as a team. The citizens. The civilians. Those who worked with everybody, anybody that was there to help put their life on the line. Even those on the airlines. Those who called home and said 'we're going to do this, but we're not going to make it.’ It was not about one particular emergency service. It had to do with Americans and individuals doing what they had to do to save people.”
Ashland Police Department Sgt. Brian Clark served as a patrolman in September 2001. He was in a training class when the attacks happened.
Clark said when he heard about the attacks he immediately considered what those fellow officers would be doing.
“As an officer, you put yourself in that position, whether it happens in Ashland or New York City,” said Clark. “I was thinking about the first responders there that day, the officers there that day. We're all brothers and sisters. It's really overwhelming to think about what those people went through, what they saw, what they did that day.”
Ashland Police Department Officer Matthew Davis said on the anniversary of the terror attacks he hopes citizens will remember the sacrifices of those that died that day, and those service members who have continued to fight for our country.
“I think this country still needs to remember the sacrifices that were made not only that day, but that have happened since, the military (members who) have given their lives to try and make the country a better place,” said Davis. “There were sacrifices made long after.”
Ashland Police Department Detective Angel Holmes said \despite the dangers an officer would face at Ground Zero, had she been in their shoes she would have been willing to make whatever sacrifice necessary to do her job and save the lives of others.
“In that situation, if I had been there, I would have done my job, even sacrificed myself,” said Holmes. “That's what we do. Life isn't guaranteed for anyone, and as a first responder we know that every day when we go to work.”
Ashland Police Department Major Scott Sexton said he respects those fallen brothers and sisters who were there that day.
“We should remember the sacrifices that they made,” said Sexton. “They didn't think about dying at the time. They were doing their job. You don't think going in that you might not come out, but you go.”
The Daily Independent would like to commemorate the lives of those lost on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and thank our first responders for their sacrifice.