Where were you on 9/11?

Where were you when you first heard about the attacks on September 11, 2001?

I was the Planning Section Chief on the Swamp Ridge Fire Complex on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and was about to lead the morning Operational Period briefing where I would hand out the Incident Action Plan with the cover you see below.

Swamp Ridge Complex, IAP Cover 9-11-2001
Swamp Ridge Complex, IAP Cover 9-11-2001

We had no smart phones or Twitter, but someone happened to be listening to the AM/FM radio in his truck and heard it on the news. When I learned about the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center I figured it was an accident, thinking about the B-25 that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945. But when the second one crashed into the other tower, I knew it was not an accident.

Our Incident Commander aggressively insisted that everything go on as planned, allowing almost no acknowledgement of the tragedy. We still had to manage the fire, of course, but I felt that it was a huge event that was having an impact on the whole country including everyone assigned to the fire. A little more empathy was warranted, I believed, for how it was affecting the United States and our personnel. It seemed as if a little PTSD was creeping into our organization out in the middle of nowhere, dozens of miles by road from the nearest small town. An official acknowledgement of what was happening to our country, and encouraging people to talk about it, would have been helpful.

After a day or two we rented a satellite TV receiver system and a large TV for the Incident Command Post which made it possible for us to watch a few minutes of the 24/7 coverage now and then or at the end of our shift.

All non-military aircraft were grounded for a while, including our firefighting helicopters. I remember being in my tent at night trying to sleep and hearing what was a surprisingly large number of aircraft flying high overhead through the darkness. Having little contact with the outside world, especially during the first few days, I wondered where all those military aircraft were going. It was a rather uncomfortable feeling, to say the least.

What do you remember about 9/11?

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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12 thoughts on “Where were you on 9/11?”

  1. In the hellhole of a UH1H Huey doing phase maintenance of beneath the engine deck and replacing hydraulic lines

    Hearing protection on…..all my mechanic compadres left me and went to the break room to watch. Crawled out in enough time to see the second Tower fall

    An eeeeerieee day to say the least….

  2. Treasure Fire. Tahoe National Forest.

    Aircraft were grounded before anyone knew.

    Shortly after, we knew something was going on through AM radio broadcasts.

    That evening, the IMT provided TVs in the camp so everyone could follow the news.

    Over the next several days, fire resources throughout the incident started flying the American Flag on their rigs… something to see and remember.

  3. On the way to grad school that morning, I heard two guys on the local ham repeater talking about all flights canceled, no reason given. At school, I attempted to get news from CNN and other websites, only to have them all so swamped with visitors that they were unresponsive. I finally went to the faculty lounge where a TV was tuned in to the news. After watching that for a bit, I went home to watch TV for the rest of the day. We got to watch the second tower fall. Something changed that day and not in a good way.

  4. I was in French class my Junior year of high school in Nebraska. It was a distance learning class and since it was a Tuesday, we were on block scheduling (the second hour of class was free work time). Our school librarian ran in just as that second hour started and said we needed to see what was happening. 5 students, me, the librarian, and an English teacher all started watching the news on a TV in a classroom across the hall. We were watching as the second plane hit. Before classes switched, the Towers fell. Teachers refused to let on that anything had happened the rest of the day. A couple of days later we went over the time-line of events in American History class (as much of it as we could). Confused, angry, sad, scared is all I can say about my feelings that day.

  5. I was working outside NYC in the greater NY metropolitan area. My first inkling was when someone at a physicians office told me they weren’t taking any calls because of the attacks in NYC. I had no clue what she was talking about. I got off the phone and turned on a NYC news radio station, I believe that this was sometime before the second plane hit the other tower. We were all in shock, one of my co-workers lived in lower Manhattan and at least one other remembered the shops that were in place before the WTC was built.

    Some of us knew someone who knew someone who died in the WTC. Or we knew someone (I know several folk) who were downtown or on their way downtown when it happened.

    It was unbelievable. At some point after they had grounded all flights I went out to get a cup of coffee and was standing outside the shop with the owner when we heard a couple of fighter jets overhead. She and I bonded over that shared experience on 9/11.

    That night, even 50 miles away from the City it was eerily quiet and the sky seemed darker. The nightly freight train (a couple of miles away) seemed to be louder then normal, spooking us and our cats.

  6. Right there with you Bill on the North Rim working with the Zion FUM. Our Mod’s second home in those years. Some wierd days with no Jets flying overhead, no tour helicopters, no air support for burn outs. Didn’t really hit home right away what had happened, when your out in the woods managing a fire your out of the loop.

  7. At the time I was the Law Enforcement Patrol Captain on the Stanislaus National Forest (California) and our regional office directed me to send officers to some of the airports where air tankers were parked and protect them. The concern was that the (easier-to-fly-than-jets) retardant- carrying airtankers could be quickly re-loaded with explosives and flammables and flown into dams or bridges. The only planes we saw flying over the Forest were low-flying fighter jets dispatched to protect the large dam holding the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir in adjacent Yosemite National Park that of course provided all the water for the San Francisco Bay area.

  8. From what I hear from some flight instructors….
    It is easier to fly some jets cuz some out of country students.were having problems with light twin aircraft ranging from discipline in flight, aircraft control, prop synching, etc

    Apparently most of the issues from 9/11…..did not involve folk taking aircraft off or landing…..most of it was all involving in flight aircraft

    That RO reaction, like many others, got everyone wound up about aircraft in the wrong hands and some airport security changes but did nothing in regards to LE and porous borders

  9. I was in Coos Bay , Oregon just getting ready to go to Eugene, Oregon wife said:
    “An Airplane hit the World Trade Center”!!” I said this isn’t an accident…”

  10. Was standing in formation at AIT Training in Ft Leonard Wood Missouri they locked the base down and pulled everyone out of formation that had family in NY defiantly a sad day in American History and one I will never forget .

    Iraq Vet 04-05
    Taji, Iraq

  11. Walking to class my freshman year of college. Someone yelled as I was walking by the tv room in the student union building. Sat down and watched the second plane hit.

  12. In Burns, Oregon preparing for a normal day on my engine on the Malheur National Forest. The day was spent glued in front of the television at our station.

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