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9/11 20 years later: Delta firefighters recall their trip to New York

Visits over several months was to attend funerals and provide emotional support
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Delta firefighters, including Reid Martin and Gerry Chahal, with a couple of New York firemen during their visit to Ground Zero in January 2002.

Tim Ipsen was minding his 18-month-year-old son at home on that horrifying Tuesday morning, not believing what he was watching unfold on TV.

“It was like something right out of Hollywood and I wondered what was going on. Was it just a hoax or something else?” he recalled.

Just a few weeks later, the then 30-year-old Delta firefighter was in New York City and looking at Ground Zero where the World Trade Center twin towers once stood. They had collapsed after being struck minutes apart by two commercial Boeing 767s that had been hijacked by members of Al-Qaeda.

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack claimed 2,977 victims, including 343 New York firefighters.

Ipsen was among a number of Delta firefighters that paid their own way to attend funerals and provide emotional support to their mourning colleagues. There was 24 in his travelling group that spent five days in the city.

“We went to six funerals and some were massive with thousands of people,” said Ipsen, now a deputy fire Chief with Delta. “Some of the processions were 10 city blocks long and we marched in a lot of them.

“We stopped by a lot of fire halls too. A lot of these guys were pretty shell shocked. It was still pretty fresh a month later and they had lost some of their best friends in mass quantities. We even brought some BC salmon with us, which they thought was a luxury and really appreciated.”

Watching the work at Ground Zero

Ipsen remembers watching what seemed like hundreds of excavators digging through the debris at Ground Zero and hearing an air siren go off, signaling human remains had been found.

“It was quite amazing as everyone would form a big line-up right at the site and actually march and honor these people. It was very touching just being there,” he said. “It was one of the most impactful trips as a firefighter for me just to be part of that. We were so well received by the public just for being there. There was a real sense of solidarity and unity from all of the New Yorkers. I don’t know how many times people would just come up and give us a hug.”

About three months later, Reid Martin was part of another group of firefighters who travelled to New York. The now Delta fire captain recalled a “whirlwind” trip that included visiting a number of fire halls.

They went to a funeral in Queen’s that was attended by nearly 3,000 people and met a firefighter who miraculously survived the tower collapse, along with his crew, thanks to being on a stairwell at the time.

“Everywhere you went there was something that really moved you. You would go to a firehall and they would have the door of the truck of the crew that died as the truck was destroyed,” said Martin. 

“The city was really welcoming and appreciated us being there. It was very much high and lows. Such a massive city. It really was a privilege to go on behalf of department and community.”

Martin’s travelling group also included Gerry Chahal who says that emotional trip feels like it was yesterday. What he had watched unfold almost daily from his home, was now right in front of him.

“It was surreal. Just the magnitude of it,” said the Delta Hall 1 battalion Chief. “The thing stood out for me was the resilience of the people. The people working at Ground Zero. Someone has to do that work and they were there doing it.

“There is a saying that we all need to shoulder the weight that is put on everyone. You go there to help shoulder their weight by just your presence. This is something we still all remember 20 years later and 3,000 miles away.”

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