When 33-year-old Wilson joined the New York Fire Department in 1991 she “thought it would be a challenge.” On Sept. 11, she faced the greatest challenge of her professional life. “I was to work overtime that morning. I was supposed to work on the truck for the day. A guy came over and asked to switch with me. The truck was sent before us and got there before the second plane hit. We actually swapped that morning, so I was on the engine. The first building fell as we were coming through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. The second fell as we were walking toward the building, and we ran back to the engine. Collectively we lost seven people from our firehouse. Two were on the engine with me. The rest were on the truck. We lost everyone from the truck.”
I felt like I was in a war zone. I knew the depth of my job was life and death. I realized the Police Department and the Fire Department are the first line of defense. But I never thought I could die. Now I do.
[Since Sept. 11] it feels like there was a big hole left in the year. It’s just empty. A whole lot of innocence was lost. The freedom of just living your life is gone. I’m on alert – just like the country is on alert. I just feel empty.
[My colleagues and I] have formed the Dean Street Heroes Fund for the firehouse. I was the liaison for the family of the guy I switched with. I would call the family and check up on them. Then someone else took over. There’s a guy who has 10 kids, and he died. Every Monday we buy food and cook a meal and take it over to the family. We take care of the needs of the families. The roof. The yard. A dentist appointment. We still take care of them. I think it helps me to cope. It’s been really great to serve the families and get to know them – especially the families with the 10 kids, because they have a lot of energy. The oldest is 16 and the youngest is 1.
Even though I shouldn’t feel guilty, I do. Every other day I question why I’m here [and others are not]. Every day I try to work to fulfill that purpose. The firefighter I switched with was going to get married in October. It’s a lot to deal with. I know I’m not the person I was a year ago. I think I’ve become withdrawn and content with being alone. Trying to work and stay busy so I don’t have to think – that’s not me. I’ve always been sociable. Now I have no desire to be.
I always felt my job is a calling. It’s something I was supposed to be, to do. God will reveal it to me when He wants to. People should not take life for granted. Respect life. Don’t allow troubles to interfere with you really living. Life is for the living. Live. Those who are gone we have to mourn. Those who are left must live.
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