What it was like to be a Gresham firefighter on Sept. 11 -

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Gresham Fire Lt. Jason Nicholls recalls his memory of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The 15th anniversary of the attacks is Sunday. Jeff Markham was at work when the Twin Towers fell.

“We were just like everybody else. Incredulous, confused, worried,” he said on Wednesday.

Markham is a firefighter. When the South Tower collapsed on live TV, Markham knew there were hundreds of first responders inside the building.

“Just knowing how many people died at that instant. It was hard,” he admitted. “Our fallen brothers went into (the second tower) knowing they were going to die, but still trying to save people.”

Lt. Jason Nicholls was in John Day hunting elk with his family on 9/11. He had been volunteering as a firefighter in Sandy, and had just been hired full time when he left for his trip.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Gresham Firefighter Bob Chamberlin recounts his memory of September 11, 2001. He didn’t hear about the attacks until he turned on the radio a week later, driving back.

“We’re not taking the place of those (that died), but you know that those sacrifices could have been made by me or my friends,” he said. “It does change how you react to it. But it didn’t change my desire to do the job.”

The Station 71 firefighters say procedures and training have changed in response to the attacks.

For instance, firefighters now have saws strong enough to cut concrete, and the practical know-how to rescue someone from under tons of rubble.

“It really changed our situational awareness,” explained firefighter Bob Chamberlin. “It’s something we’re always on the lookout for.”

Today, Gresham Fire Department has a formal Urban Search & Rescue team based out of Station 71, which is next to City Hall.

The US&R engine is essentially a giant toolbox equipped with everything firefighters need to extract survivors from the twisted metal of a car crash — or the crushed concrete of a collapsed building.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Gresham Firefighter Jeff Markham remembers feeling frustrated by not being able to help as he watched television coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 
The federal government funded most of the new training and equipment, though the upkeep costs are now borne by the city. Firefighters respond to car crashes too frequently, he noted, but thankfully there has not been a severe structural building failure in the past decade.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready.

On Sunday, Sept. 11, firefighters across the country will hold a moment of silence for their fallen comrades.

As Chamberlin put it, “We have a brotherhood.”

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