He always wanted to be a firefighter, but the 1984 Bridgewater-Raritan High School West graduate never knew he would be working in that position on one of the most tragic days in America’s history.
“I always wanted to be a fireman when I was a kid, and it was a dream of mine,” said John Kazan, a former Green Knoll Volunteer firefighter who has been a New York City fireman since 1995. “I was not at work on Sept. 11, but once I saw the second plane hit the towers, I started heading right to work.”
Kazan served as a firefighter with Green Knoll from 1983 through 1995 when he was hired to Engine 33, Ladder 9 in New York City.
And Sept. 11 was a day that forced Kazan and all of his peers into action.
“By the time I got to the firehouse on Sept. 11, they were mustering all the men, and we went to another firehouse and down to the Trade Center site,” he said. “By then, the towers had collapsed, and we worked through the night to try to save people and figure out what was going on.”
“It was surreal, walking down there was like a nuclear war,” he added, “or what it would look like. The streets weren’t damaged, but there was no one around and it was very quiet and surreal.”
For Kazan, there was no question about jumping into action and helping out.
“We knew what we had to do,” he said. “Any fireman knows when you are given a task, you just do your job.”
From that point on, Kazan said, he was doing 24-hour shifts every other day for about a week, working on the clean-up and rescue efforts. And in October, he said, he was assigned to Ground Zero for 12-hour shifts for about 30 days.
“It was the enormity of damage there, and the fact you realize how much was destroyed,” he said. “The loss of life was unknown at the time. We knew there would be a large number of fatalities, but we didn’t know to what extent.”
Since then, Kazan said, he was reassigned to Ladder 4 in midtown Manhattan, still working for the New York City fire department.
Kazan said there’s a tremendous amount of training firefighters go through, particularly since Sept. 11. And the awareness level of firefighters, he said, has increased.
“No one thought that would happen, we didn’t think the terrorists would come here and attack,” he said. “In the back of your mind, you’re always a little more aware of your surroundings, and you’re taking a look at certain things that 10 years ago we would have treated for granted.”
With terrorism training, first response, the subways and other factors, it is different being a firefighter, especially in New York City, Kazan said.
When he began working in the city, Kazan said, he was mostly worried about fires in certain buildings, but training had never really included a focus on terrorism.
“Now we have to talk about how if you go to a subway and you hear an explosion, you slow down and look for secondary devices,” he said. “When I came to the job, you didn’t have to worry about that.”
Kazan said his firehouse lost 10 firefighters on Sept. 11, but, as a group, they worked through the tragedy.
“Some guys it affected more than others, but it affected us all in different ways,’ he said. “When one guy goes through something, it takes all the people to make it better.”
“Tragedies bring the firehouse together more,” he added. “It’s a tight group and they are like your family sometimes. Sometimes you’re with them more than your family.”
Kazan said it is important to make sure that people never forget what happened on Sept. 11.
“We see the younger generation, and we can’t let our guard down,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s a different world when you see what’s going on and how the terrorists think. They have no morals.”
“One of my saddest thoughts was when we had to pick up the firefighters at Ground Zero, that was bad,” he added. “But when we found civilians, they had just gone to work and did nothing wrong, but they lost their lives and that’s a real shame.”
Every year, Kazan said, he makes sure to go to the firehouse on Sept. 11 for a memorial, but it has been a long time since he has been able to return to Ground Zero.
Still, Kazan said, he is proud to do what he does, and proud to serve the people of New York.
“I get to know a lot of people, and I’m very honored to have worked with these men and women,” he said. “These people make a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
“And the guys that passed away, they were extraordinary men and they really did something special,” he added. “It’s something a lot of people wouldn’t normally do.”
*Leading up to Sept. 11, Bridgewater Patch will examine 9/11's impact on the community and how lives have changed, and reflect on those who died in the attacks 10 years ago.
Monday—Bridgewater-Raritan High School seniors talk about their memories of 9/11.
Tuesday—The school district discusses how it teaches Sept. 11 to seventh through 12th graders, and we offer a special You Said It with county residents talking about their thoughts on how the world has changed.
Wednesday—Former New York City firefighter, and Bridgewater resident, Jim Murray shows pictures he took on 9/11.
Sept. 8—The Martinsville Volunteer Fire Co. talks about it brought water to rescue dogs at ground zero.
Sept. 9—The police department discusses how its training has changed since Sept. 11.
Sept. 10—County residents speak about how Sept. 11 changed their lives.
Sept. 11—We cover local and county Sept. 11 memorials.
In case you missed it:
Thursday—We looked at a photo that we thought was representative of the feelings of Americans today.
Friday—We remembered those residents who died in the attacks.
Saturday—We presented photos of the Twin Towers taken by residents.