Fort Wayne Firefighter Reflects On His 9/11 Rescue Effort

By Ryan Elijah

September 9, 2011 Updated Sep 9, 2011 at 12:29 PM EDT

Unlike many first responders to 9/11, John Hamrick's first images of the destruction came from a television he was watching in a local hardware store. The Fort Wayne Firefighter had recently founded Team R&R Disaster Assistance, feeling his skills as a diver, firefighter and knowledge of communications towers could assist after natural disasters. He instantly decided to take his rescue hummer to the East Coast.

After driving all night, unsure of what challenge he'd encounter, Hamrick hit police barricades in New York. He still remembers the lack of an overall plan when he arrived. After letting officials know his training as a firefighter and the high angle rescue equipment he had with him, he spent the first night in his hummer. When the sun came up the next morning, he was on the first ferry heading to Ground Zero.

Hamrick spent the first two days on what was called the "bucket brigade", searching in vain for survivors in dusty conditions with no electricity.

Before 9/11, he had responded to floods, but very little could have prepared him for he encountered in 2001. While do does receive some support from businesses, he loaded up his rescue hummer ten years ago on his own resources.

Hamrick is still a fire fighter and now tells his rescue stories to schools, including a 2005 trip to assist the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Rita. We joined him on a visit to Kekionga Middle Shool, where students are too young to remember 9/11 from their own memories, but seeing Hamrick's pictures and hearing his first hand account makes a difference.

Hamrick returned to New York on the one-year anniversary and went back this week for the ten-year anniversary. Other than meeting with some of the people he stayed with in a nearby marina, he has no set plan, much like 10 years ago. When he returns he plans to continue telling students his story and instilling in them a simple lesson learned from his parents, get involved and make a difference.

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