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Fifteen years since the 9/11 terror attack: a first responder's story

Posted at 11:33 PM, Sep 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-12 14:27:17-04
On September 11, 2001, the day started normally for firefighter Dan Rowan. He worked for the New York Fire Department at that point in his life. That morning, he was painting a house with two of his friends who were police officers. At 8:46 a.m., the phone rang; it was his wife. In that moment, the words she said changed his life.
 
"My wife calls me up and says Dan, something just happened at the Trade Center," Rowan said. "And that was at 8:46, or a little bit, right in that 8:46, 8:48 area. So I said Larry, we've got to go, and he said yeah we're on our way."
 
He headed straight there. On his way, he heard on the radio that a second tower had collapsed. That was just 17 minutes later. Rowan was a firefighter for N.Y.F.D. for some time, so he had been around for the 1993 attempted terror attack on the World Trade Center.
 
"I said, oh my God. I know this is a terrorist attack. This is not an accident," he explained. "You know, we knew it was a terrorist attack in 1993, and I was there for that one."
 
As soon as he got to the site, he met up with more firefighters. However, they had no gear and no fire truck. Anxious to help out his usual group -- Ladder Company Nine -- they had to get creative and found the next best thing.
 
"We hopped in a Great Jones lumber truck that was right across the street from us, so we make that our fire truck. I mean there were like 30 of us," Rowan said. "We all just mustered in and came in. We had no tools, but we had the clothes on our back. And when we got there, I found my nine truck, fully involved in the fire."
 
Rowan worked non-stop for 72 hours.
 
"The debris that was coming down, you really couldn't see," he explained. "It was nothing but fog, and you knew what that was. Not only was it the debris from the building itself, but it was us."
 
On that tragic day, 343 firefighters died. Everything -- the sights, the sounds, the smells -- stuck with Rowan.
"We operated -- my nine truck was fully involved in fire," he said. "The saddest day of my life, saddest day of my life. So every day, I live 9/11."
 
But despite re-living the tragedy every day, Rowan feels honored that he got the chance to serve. To this day, he sees it as one of the most important moments of his life.
 
"I tell people, there's only two days in a person's life. The day that you're born, and the day you find out the reason why. On 9/11, we found out the reason why. I did."