Marblehead firefighter Todd Burt choked back tears and called his young son, Noah, to his side as he spoke at a 9/11 program at the Epstein Hillel School this morning.
Burt shared his reflections with EHS students in grades five through eight. He talked about the brave New York City firefighters who, carrying 100 pounds of gear, walked up 80 flights of stairs at the World Trade Center to respond to a report of a fire. On their way up, they got word that the two towers had been hit by planes.
“That did not stop one firefighter from walking up those stairs,” Burt said, choking back tears. “They walked up not knowing if they would be coming back down. It’s obviously an emotional day for firefighters around the world.
“A lot of them had families, but that didn’t stop them,” he said as he rubbed his son’s back.
Three-hundred-forty-three firefighters were killed in the terror attacks. Another 341 firefighters, paramedics and support staff have died from post-9/11 illnessess, according to the Uniformed Firefighters Association. Nearly 3,000 civilians died that day.
EHS students have been studying memorials and their importance. Teachers pointed out that there are 1,000 9/11 memorials around the world. The 9/11 memorial in Marblehead lists the names of the three ‘Headers who died in the attacks: Erik Isbtrandtsen, who was working in the World Trade Center when the planes hit; and Dr. Frederick Rimmele and William Weems, who were both on United Airlines Flight 175 when it crashed into the South Tower.
The memorial also names the three service members who died fighting in wars after the terror attacks: Army Staff Sgt. Christopher N. Piper, Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Christopher Shay and Rachel R. McKay.
“We are grateful for the people who didn’t stop to think and just ran in to help. We learn starting in kindergarten about the helpers. And firefighters are always first on the scene,” said EHS Head of School Amy Gold.
Burt said 9/11 “forever changed the way America views firefighters and first responders.” He went on to talk about why he became a firefighter.
“I always wanted to help people. My step-father was a firefighter for 38 yers in Marblehead. I knew at a young age.”
Burt said everyday is different when you work as a firefighter. He gave several examples of different calls that come in.
“Once, a girl climbed 50-60 feet into a tree and couldn’t get back down,” he said. “I put on a harness and a rope. Our ladder only goes up 35 feet, so I had to climb up the rest and bring her down.”
He recalled another call in the middle of the night.
“It was 2 a.m. and we got a call that a woman was having a baby in her house. We delivered a healthy baby girl.”
A teacher standing in the back of the room spoke up to say she remembers Burt from a terrible day when her then-preschool son, Colton, was injured when part of a wall collapsed on him at the JCC.
“I walked into the gym and saw you holding my little boy’s head. You helped my little boy, my baby. So thank you.”
Later this morning, town leaders held a formal 9/11 memorial service at Memorial Park on Pleasant Street.
Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.