Ex-Fort Drum fire captain holds back tears reflecting on Ground Zero experience

Remembering 9/11

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — “It’s funny. I hardly remember things of yesterday, but I can tell you everything that happened 20 years ago on that day,” Former Fort Drum Fire Captain Robert Tennies said.

Saturday, September 11 marks two decades since the attacks on the Twin Towers, a day Tennies will never forget. The now-retired captain shared his personal experience after traveling down to the site almost 20 years ago.

Tennies said it was difficult to watch firefighters at the scene go into the building and up the stairs knowing the risk they were taking. He said he was too familiar with the thought of possibly not returning home to his loved ones after work, as are many in his profession.

At the time of the attacks, Tennies was working part-time for Guilfoyle and received a call that night asking if he would be willing to come down to the site and help with the aftermath. Without a second thought, he said, “Yes,” knowing that his contribution was needed.

Tennies and seven others loaded into two ambulances and drove to New York City where they were assigned to Ground Zero. He said crossing through the gate to the area was a surreal experience. “There was no noise, there was no traffic, there was nothing,” Tennies recalled.

The retired captain had to hold back his tears while describing arriving at the site for the first time. “You saw for the first time the devastation, and it literally just took your breath away,” Tennies said. “You saw it on TV, but to see it, and have the smells, and people just digging to try and save other people’s lives. It was just way overwhelming.”

He said that his experience gave him a new appreciation for life over the past 20 years and hopes the country never goes through an experience like that again. “Every day after that was precious,” Tennies said of the years since the attack. “I pray that it never happens again, but it changes your life and makes you appreciate the people you love.”

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