Remembering 9/11 Part 1: Cottage Grove firefighter recalls thank yous at ground zeroIt’s odd, the things that stick out in a person’s mind about an event through the lens of a decade passed. For Al Beasley, the deputy fire chief with the Cottage Grove Fire Department who, along with three other department volunteers, rushed to New York City following the attacks of Sept. 11, it is this: the thank yous.
It’s odd, the things that stick out in a person’s mind about an event through the lens of a decade passed.
For Al Beasley, the deputy fire chief with the Cottage Grove Fire Department who, along with three other department volunteers, rushed to New York City following the attacks of Sept. 11, it is this: the thank yous.
They came often, as Beasley, his brother Cal Beasley, Rick Abel and Ron Stober listened to horror stories of the moments after the hijacked airliners hit their World Trade Center targets. They came as the Cottage Grove foursome helped clear rubble near the towers and when they passed out thousands of pieces of equipment to ground zero rescuers.
It came, the gratitude, from men who had lost fellow firefighters — 343 of them — when they clambered into burning towers that would crumble.
To Beasley, it just didn’t make sense.
“It was weird — they kept thanking us,” the veteran Cottage Grove firefighter sheepishly recalled recently in his office at Cottage Grove Fire Station No. 2. “I just thought, ‘We should be thanking you for your service and what you did for the country.’”
Listened to stories
Beasley was on high alert the morning of Sept. 11, working as a contracted security guard at a federal building where the offices of then-U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton were located.
When he got home that night, Beasley talked with brother Cal, Abel and Stober — none of whom is still with the department — and the four made a snap decision: rather than watch the devastation unfold on their television screens at home they would board the first flight they could to New York City and help.
Two days later, Thursday, Sept. 13, the group boarded the first New York-bound flight out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport along with a Brooklyn-based New York firefighter desperate to get home. Diverted to a Connecticut airport, the five firefighters drove the rest of the way to a New York Fire Department fire house at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
There, the Brooklyn firehouse cooked them dinner — “’Oh, no. We’re not letting the Minnesotans cook,” Beasley recalled them saying — gave them bunks for the night, then put them to work the following morning, Friday, Sept. 14.
“Being from the outside, there seemed to be relief from the [firefighters] who were there just to tell their stories to someone,” Beasley said.
‘I said a prayer’
After arriving in Manhattan via Fire Department boat, they cleaned, helping to establish a staging area by removing rubble and refuse from a block-long stretch roughly a half-football field away from the World Trade Center site where rescue workers picked carefully through the massive, piled remains of the felled towers.
Of seeing ground zero up close that morning, Beasley said: “You got the wind sucked out of you. There was a mound of debris that must’ve been 30 yards high.”
In the days that followed the four volunteer Cottage Grove firefighters passed out thousands of pieces of equipment to rescuers from the second floor of a building near ground zero, handing out masks, helmets, goggles, blades, first aid kits, cots and blankets to a relentless stream of workers — an unglamourous job.
Though they weren’t directly on site, the four were close enough to see the grisly reminders of what had happened there.
“When they pulled out a body, you didn’t do anything,” Beasley said. “You stopped. Took off your helmet. It was just one of those eerie feelings. There were thousands of people and they’d just stop.”
For three days Beasley aided the rescue efforts in devastated, exhausted city, before heading home in pairs.
Beasley still talks with the New York firefighter they befriended. He and his family have visited New York City a handful of times in the intervening decade. They’ve stopped in and said hello at the Brooklyn Navy Yard fire house, he said, and again heard those surprising words of thanks. They’ve paid a visit to ground zero, now a bustling construction site and somber memorial site, to reflect.
A decade on, Beasley says he doesn’t think much about those days in New York after the attacks. He’s just happy the group of four Cottage Grove firefighters got a chance to help.
On a visit to ground zero, “I said a prayer for the people that lost their lives,” Beasley said. “That’s the only thing I think about that day, is I hope they don’t do it again.”