North Branford Firefighters Recall Their Trip to Ground Zero

Eight North Branford Fire Department volunteers, plus one from East Haven, made the trip to NYC on Sept. 12 to lend a hand; Fire Chief Seward also helped on 9/11.

With the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching on Sunday, many are remembering the day and those lost. Yesterday, a was held at Connecticut's 9/11 memorial in Westport.

Last night, I had the honor of meeting with six of the North Branford firefighters who worked at Ground Zero, along with Fire Chief William Seward, who was not with North Branford at the time but was also part of a team that worked at Ground Zero.

Just 24 hours after the planes hit, Captain John Florio and eight others packed up their gear and began a surreal journey by boarding a train at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12–the earliest they could get a train into the city–with other area firefighters.

Florio was accompanied by North Branford's Lt. Bob Colangelo, Foreman Mark Candelli, FF John Conway, FF John O'Brien, FF Rich Lennon, FF Mike Bernick and EMT Frank Garitta, along with Neil Florio from Foxon Volunteer Company 3 in East Haven.

The group was greeted by a standing ovation at Grand Central Terminal and then began making their way toward Ground Zero where they worked on a three-story pile of twisted metal, digging up debris with five-gallon buckets for the next 24 hours. 

A full recount of their day, along with a video, will be featured on Sunday, Sept. 11.

Ten years ago, Seward–now North Branford's fire chief–was the director of training for the City of New Haven Fire Department. He was part of a multi-person team that was deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work at Ground Zero for six days.

“Our primary focus was working with New York City Fire Department and its Health Bureau in critical incident stress debriefing for the members who were working at Ground Zero,” said Seward. "There were a number of other teams represented there–from Providence, Rhode Island; Chicago; Los Angeles–and we were selected to actually work at Ground Zero with the New York City Fire Department.”

Seward had conducted training with the Town of North Branford for a number of years and knew many of the members of the town’s fire departments. Now a decade later, Seward is working with many of the men who also traveled to New York City that day.

“Ten years later brings back many thoughts," said Seward. "I still remember being dropped off at Ground Zero. My first image was looking at a large hotel and it looked like you were watching a video of a show long ago where a giant ape had taken his paw, ripped it across the face of the building and tore it off–that's what it looked like.”

Governor Dannel P. Malloy released the following statement in remembrance of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, which echoed many of the sentiments discussed by North Branford's own.

“Ten years ago, the world, the country and our state changed forever. As the Mayor of Stamford at that time, I recall going to the train station to wait for the trains coming home from New York City, watching some of the people get off covered in soot and dust, and sending first responders to New York City to help with the response. In some ways, that day feels like it happened a long time ago; in other ways, it seems like it happened yesterday. Regardless of how many years go by, time does little to erase our memories of that day and for those who lost loved ones, the memories they have of that person or people will live on forever; their grief is our grief.

"Ten years later, we remember the countless, selfless acts of bravery and courage undertaken that day by so many men and women – and most especially, but not limited to, uniformed personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice. And we of course think daily of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces who have sacrificed their own lives on behalf of our own," Malloy added. "Our world is different, our country was impacted and our state was forever altered, but ten years later, I remain convinced of our resiliency and determination to move forward from this terrible tragedy.”

In recognition of Honor Our Heroes and Remembrance Day, Malloy has directed flags to fly at half-staff on Sunday, Sept. 11 and asks residents to observe a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time American Airlines flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Flags will return to full staff at sunset on Sunday.

Patricia O Brien September 09, 2011 at 09:01 PM
I am very proud of our North Branford Firefighters thats went to the aide of their fellow brother firefighters, without a thought for their own safety. God Bless them and their families.
Anna September 09, 2011 at 10:28 PM
I respect and admire all firefighters, but to risk your life and go with your heart with only knowing you are doing this because you feel you need to and not for a paycheck....that is a TRUE HERO in my book.. Stay safe ..NB fire department. You are #1 !!!
Patrick J. Enright September 10, 2011 at 12:50 AM
I was very proud of my nephew, John O'Brien when I learned that he responded on that dreadful day ten years ago. God Bless you and your family.
Mary Baronski September 11, 2011 at 12:41 AM
Two of these brave firefighters are my brothers.. I am and always have been very proud of what they do. On that day, on that train ride to the city, I believe that my brothers and all those other firefighters never knew their lives would never be the same after what they saw that day. You truly are my heros....
Kathleen O'Brien September 11, 2011 at 03:03 PM
THANK YOU to all the Firefighters and First Responders who were self less and gave their time not knowing what would happen as they went down to Ground Zero! Being a firefighter isnt a job its a calling... All of the firefighters and first responders who died and those who went down to help you are all my heros... Especially my Dad- John O'Brien.. I am so proud of him and all of the others for what they did to help those in need, and continue to do every day<3


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