EASTON, Conn. The hope that he could save a life kept Easton Firefighter Dave Davies going during an 18-hour shift at Ground Zero on Sept. 14.
"There was always hope that you would hear someone tapping on the steel. The hope of that was a driving force for anybody that was there," said Davies. "For the guys who were there later, it was the hope to recover somebody's family ... to bring that memory home."
Davies worked overnight at the Easton Fire Department before meeting up with Fairfield firefighters to go to "the pile," as they called it.
Working at Ground Zero didn't change the way Davies views his job, he said, but it changed the way he values his time spent with family.
"I think it's important to be with family and enjoy the time you do have ... because you never know when something can happen," he said.
"There was an unbelievable mass of steel and smoke, and other burnt buildings still standing," he said. "It was an entire city block. I don't think most people realize how big a city block is until you can see clear across it or see across to where buildings were still standing."
There were times when Davies thought he might not go home that day. An FDNY firefighter took off his coat, and written on both of the man's arms, in permanent marker, was his name and Social Security number.
"There was a heightened awareness of possible dangers," Davies said. When someone thought another building would come down, the responders would get off the pile and return to work when it was safe. Large pieces of glass would fall and everyone would yell, "Glass! Glass!" he said.
Sinking his hands into the remains of the buildings, personal belongings and the lives lost that day wasn't emotionally difficult for him until he stepped back and thought about what he had been doing.
"When I was there, it wasn't hard. You put on your game face and go to work and do the job that needs to be done," the Easton firefighter said. "It wasn't hard until later ... until you can think about what you saw and realize the things you were exposed to. ... It's emotional. I was potentially digging through the memory of other people. You did what you could do at the time."
Davies dug through "the pile" on that rainy Friday. He was soaked but able to change his gloves and socks with donations, giving him "an extra boost" to keep going.
Davies rode out of Manhattan on the back of a pickup truck.
"Both sides of the West Side Highway were lined with people holding flags and candles ... as far as you could see.
If he could go back to Sept. 11, Davies said he would go again, go sooner and stay longer.
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