Volume 75, Number 17 | September 14 - 20, 2005

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

A memorial to the firefighters lost on 9/11 at the Ladder 5/Engine 24 firehouse at Houston St. and Sixth Ave.

Fewer flowers after 4 years, but the pain’s no less

By Jefferson Siegel

For most of the nation, the horror of 9/11 has been relegated to cable documentaries that air once a year. This past Sunday was the opening day of the National Football League season, and in Union Square, a gathering place for mourners in the weeks following the attack, a Music in the Park concert rocked on.

But Sunday morning, relatives stood in the depths of “The Pit” at Ground Zero. In a heart-rending roll call, they looked to the sky and proclaimed their love and remembrances to family and friends now four years gone.

On the morning that Lower Manhattan was buried under the dust storm of collapsed buildings, the mayor and city government, looking for somewhere to regroup, walked north. They found shelter at Ladder 5 and Engine 24 on Sixth Ave. in Greenwich Village.

Inside the front door is an illuminated memorial sign honoring the 11 members the house lost that day; two battalion chiefs, one captain, one lieutenant and seven firefighters. On Sunday, area residents stopped by to add candles and flowers to the memorial.

“On 9/11 or on the days before 9/11 they bring in the flowers as a token of appreciation,” said Lieutenant Ken Christensen, looking at the line of vases opposite his office.

“That day was a hard day,” Christensen said, looking down and shaking his head. “I was on the Staten Island Ferry. I saw both buildings collapse. And then I made my way up and we did what we had to do that day.”

Christensen marked his 25th year with the department a week ago, a career he sees continuing, albeit not as he once planned. “I’m still in no rush to get out, I love what I do,” he said. “The job isn’t quite the same as it used to be. It took a big toll on a lot of guys. Before, I loved my job, I had alot of fun in my job. After, I didn’t love it as much as I previously did.”

The department lost 343 men in one morning. “We took a beating. And for the year or so after, everybody was exceptionally kind to us. The bosses were kind to us, everybody was nice to us.”

But bureaucracy soon marginalized the city’s own heroes. Budget cuts forced the closing of firehouses across the city. The first responders were the first sacrifices. “We still haven’t had a raise since 2001. Our contracts are backed up,” Christensen said, his voice rising. “To be quite honest, I’m starting to get disgusted.”

To some local residents, they were not forgotten, however, as evidenced by the flowers, cards and other mementoes left at firehouses throughout the Village this past weekend, including Ladder 3 on E. 13th St., Ladder 20 on Lafayette St. and Engine 5 on E. 14th St.

The volume of flowers and candles has been tapering off bit by bit each anniversary, though, firefighters say.

Lieutenant Christensen had more to say but the alarm interrupted him: Apartment 2C, 29 King St., heavy smoke condition.

“I gotta go,” Christensen said, pulling on his boots. The job is right around the corner, but the men grab their coats and jump on the rig as if they were going a mile away. Or down to the Trade Center. They are focused and determined and act without hesitation. Perhaps that’s the best legacy of all.

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