Suburban Firefighter Remembers Assisting New York Following 9/11 Attacks

Bernie Tafoya
September 11, 2018 - 9:58 am

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- When the 9-11 attacks happened 17 years ago, it didn’t take long before Chicago area firefighters were banding together to help their brothers and sisters in New York. 

"It’s fresh in my mind, but it’s hard to believe it’s 17 years," said Schaumburg Fire Captain John Schneidwind, shortly before he spoke to the Schaumburg Business Association on Tuesday morning at Chandler's Banquet Hall.

Schneidwind was among a group of about 50 firefighters from Chicago and the suburbs who took off for New York City less than 24 hours after the 9-11 attacks.

He said the amount of devastation he found at Ground Zero was more than he could have imagined.

"All we found was crushed concrete and twisted steel. That’s it. We didn’t find desks, we didn’t find file cabinets, we didn’t find people," he said.

Capt. Schneidwind took part in search and rescue efforts digging with his hands, sometimes being part of the bucket brigade, sometimes putting out spot fires. 

Working at Ground Zero took an emotional toll. 

"We had so many people missing, you can’t even take it all in. I just kind of focused on the task at hand and, it took a while when we got home to process it all," the fire captain said.

WBBM Newsradio/Bernie Tafoya

Working at Ground Zero also meant breathing in all the toxins that hung in the air. Many first responders have contracted illnesses and died.  Schneidwind said he is "tested through the World Trade Center Health Program. Every year, I get a physical and they follow up with us. So far, I’ve been healthy."

Captain Schneidwind said it’s very powerful for all of us to recall what happened 17 years ago. 

"We were so vulnerable back then and we still are. We want to be vulnerable to a degree because we want to be free. So, with that comes some risk," he said.

The fire captain also recalls the graciousness of the people of New York City. He said they were always offering food, water, clothing, even willing to flush out the firefighters' eyes.

The Chicago area contingent worked at Ground Zero until September 17, 2001.