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Friday, 6 September, 2002, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Firefighters remember their brothers
Fire-fighters pictures
Lost colleagues are always in their thoughts

They are laughing and joking in the sunshine, outside their firehouse in Greenwich Village.

The banter as they wait for the next call tells you something about the bonds that exist between New York's firefighters.

They are uneasy about being described as heroes, but talk with pride about the "band of brothers".

They lost many good friends on 11 September.

But the laughter is a sign that some kind of normality is returning after a year in which there has been little to smile about.

The firefighters of Engine 24 Ladder 5 were among the first to get the call to the World Trade Center, just three miles away.

Inside the tower

They were inside the North Tower when the order was made to evacuate the building. They felt the shock waves from the collapse of the South Tower.

Lieutenant Gregg Hansson had just got his team out onto the street when the North Tower began to come down.

"We were 15-20 feet from the building when I heard a loud explosion and at that point it really seemed like it was going to be all over."

Lieutenant Gregg Hansson
Gregg Hansson escaped from the North Tower

"I was pelted with concrete and then it stopped and I was still in one piece. I told myself I had to crawl out of there, I was on my hands and my knees and I managed to get myself out."

"We had a lucky day. For some reason we were spared."

Gregg and six other firefighters had an astonishing escape. Eleven colleagues, still inside the building, were all killed.

Photographs of the men who did not return are displayed outside the firehouse, along with a battered panel from Ladder 5, wrecked when the towers collapsed.

A permanent memorial will be unveiled at a ceremony in the firehouse on 11 September. The firefighters will gather there with the families of the men who died, to mark the anniversary in their own way, in private.

One big family

The firehouse is looking after its bereaved families. Off duty firefighters visit them to see how they are, to do repairs around the house, and take the kids to the ball park.

Captain Anthony Varriale
Cpt Varriale has mixed emotions about the day

"The Fire Department is a family, on and off duty," says Captain Anthony Varriale.

"The best support these widows will ever have, apart from their immediate families, will be the firehouse."

"We will be there for the rest of their lives. We want them to continue to be part of us, because through them, we will remember our guys."

New colleagues

The loss of 343 New York firefighters on 11 September means that many new faces have appeared at this and other firehouses across the city.

The job ads said 'Heroes Wanted', but firefighters are a down to earth breed who just want to get on with a job they love.

But like it or not, their profile after September 11 is sky high. They enjoy a level of public respect shared by few other groups of workers.

"It is very humbling", says firefighter Gary Robbins.

It was the worst day of my life and the best day of my life

Captain Anthony Varriale

"We are just a bunch of guys who want to do the right thing. We have got this status on the backs of all those great guys who got killed that day."

One year on, people still stop and stare at the sight of a fire engine answering an emergency call, the Stars and Stripes streaming in its wake.

"I think people have always appreciated us," says firefighter Christian Waugh.

"But I don't consider myself to be a hero. None of the guys who are alive consider themselves to be a hero. The true heroes are the guys who died."

Time for reflection

The anniversary of the attacks on America will be a time for reflection at the Greenwich Village firehouse.

"I look on September 11 as the worst day of my life, and the best day of my life," says Captain Varriale.

"It was the worst because we lost so many friends. I personally lost close to 150. My phone doesn't ring any more".

"But that day I saw some of the greatest acts of bravery, and not only by firefighters. It was my proudest day seeing human beings at their best, in a situation where human beings were at their worst".

Click here to watch residents of New York give their views about September 11

Firefighters talk about their experience

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06 Sep 02 | Americas
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