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Northeast Wisconsin fire service community remembers 9/11

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 6:17 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - This week our nation prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives that day, including a staggering 343 New York City firefighters.

That ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten within the fire service industry.

Like the rest of the country, Green Bay Metro Assistant Fire Chief Rob Goplin watched in horror as the events of 9/11 unfolded, and the Twin Towers eventually came crashing down.

As a firefighter, he was haunted by what he could hear.

“Just staring at the TV in awe, I could hear all of the alarms going off, from the firefighters SCBAs and I know what those alarms mean, that means that somebody is down and they’re not moving and you recognize that sound instantly, and I just knew at that point that there was a huge number of people that were not going home,” recalls Goplin.

Two days after the attacks, we were at a Green Bay fire station where firefighters huddled around a TV watching search and rescue efforts, and praying.

“Just starting to realize the enormity of it, everyone was just kind of in, for a long time it was silence, you sat in silence and just tried to comprehend,” remembers Goplin.

“Can’t even imagine what it was like for those firefighters, what a tough feeling and why they worked so hard to get their brothers and sisters out of that pile,” says retired Oshkosh Fire Chief Tim Franz, who recalls weeks of grief at fire stations around the city following the attacks.

Today Franz is an instructor at Fox Valley Technical College, teaching the next generation of firefighters, many of whom were born after 9/11, or were too young to remember it.

“What it’s really important for them to know, and we had the discussion this morning, about how to overcome adversity in the challenges of this job, that it’s got to be in your heart of service, that you put service before self and we saw that, it was the ultimate sacrifice, that those New York City firefighters knew that day when they were heading in that they weren’t sure that they were going to come back out again, but they put themselves in harms way to save other people’s lives,” says Franz.

In the weeks following 9/11, Northeast Wisconsin’s proud fire truck manufacturing industry came to life.

At Seagrave in Clintonville, our cameras were there as employees worked around the clock to build new firetrucks for New York City.

Two decades later, a tribute to the fallen is found on most fire trucks made at Pierce Manufacturing in Appleton.

“Very often on customer units you’ll see Keep Back 343 Feet on the back of an apparatus,” explains Dan Meyer, Director of Sales at Pierce Manufacturing.

Each year, the company hosts the annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Lambeau Field to benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

“What’s kind of humbling through that process is you will be climbing next to people that are in full turnout gear and in our community would be the people if something happened, would be coming in to your homes and would be there protecting you and your family and your property and to get to do that shoulder to shoulder with people on a day that is so relevant to them as people and so relevant to us as Americans, it’s really humbling, a humbling experience,” explains Meyer.

In public safety buildings across the area, memorials remember 9/11.

In Greenville, steel beams from the Twin Towers serve as a constant reminder.

“It touches every part of you, every time you walk here you remember things you were doing that day, you remember different things that happened, maybe on your own departments or things that you read in the paper day in and day out, and it brings you back to reality sometimes and just makes you think more about life,” says Greenville firefighter Chad Miller.

The selfless sacrifice of so many firefighters will never be forgotten.

“Here in Green Bay we have roughly 200 firefighting personnel and 343 were lost that day, so it would have truly been to the point of wiping out an entire county here from our perspective, and just, I mean it’s a stunning loss, how do you recover from that, and I don’t know that you do, it’s just, it’s always there,” says Goplin.

WBAY-TV will be airing stories during Action 2 News at Six throughout the week as part of an ongoing series ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

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