In New Brunswick, the Riverview Fire and Rescue Department is a small force. Made up of 23 full-time members, it couldn’t afford to send manpower to New York City in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
“I guarantee that any of us would have gone if we had a chance to help,” says Capt. Dwight Robertson.
The 30-year veteran in the field says he was home that day but went to the station to be with his co-workers when the news broke.
“We were all talking the same way and feeling the same feelings,” he says.
“I was devastated, overwhelmed with pain.”
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Robertson says it’s not just the image of that second plane hitting the World Trade Center or the collapsing towers, but the sounds that followed.
The whistle of hundreds of firefighters “man down alarms” filling the streets around the rubble.
“All you could hear were those alarms,” he says. “They were going everywhere.”
A “man down alarm”, also known as a Personal Alert Safety System (PASS), is a personal safety device built into a firefighter’s breathing apparatus.
The device sounds when no movement is detected, alerting others of a downed, injured or worse firefighter.
“As a firefighter, I recognized what those alarms were,” says Robertson. “I’m not 100% sure that the general public does. They could have thought it was a car alarm or an alarm in a nearby building. “
For him and other first responders glued to the TV that afternoon, it wasn’t just a beep.
“You know those sounds are those of one of your brothers and sisters in trouble, forget about hundreds of them.”
There were firefighters from other parts of the Maritime Islands and from all over Canada who traveled to New York, if only for funerals and vigils.
Robertson says he and his co-workers at Riverview found another way to send support.
“There was a connection in the past between a couple of firefighters in New York and the Riverview fire station and they hinted at the point that they liked maple syrup,” he says.
He says the team contacted a New Brunswick-based maple syrup company, which gave them a deal for the product.
They gathered packets of maple syrup, maple sugar, maple cream with a relevant recipe included, hoping to bring them to the families of the firefighters who died at ground zero.
It reached 343 aid packages in total.
That December, Robertson and some co-workers traveled to New York and personally delivered the packages.
He says that even three months after the attack, it was a grim scene.
“The closer you got to Ground Zero, the quieter it got. … It was incredible.”
Now, 20 years later, he is scheduled to work on September 11.
He says the crew will pause to reflect on the day, but there hasn’t been one since it hasn’t been affected by the tragedy.
“We were always strong as a group, but this really brought us together,” says Robertson.
“These types of incidents tend to do that to people.”
© 2021 The Canadian Press