'We still go running into buildings to save people just like they did on 9/11'

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The Twin Towers smolder prior to collapsing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. inset, from left, city firefighters Steve Plante, Beth Blake, Cam Mclean. (Getty Image; inset, Rochester Voice)

ROCHESTER - In September of 2001 Rochester Firefighter Beth Blake had just recently joined the ranks of Rochester firefighters and was still working at her previous profession of graphic designer on her days off.

She said she had a dual connection to the events of 9/11, not only as being part of a profession that lost so many in the World Trade Center attacks, but also as a graphic designer who had clients who had offices inside the Twin Towers whom she'd visited there.

"I've been there a few times, and you can go to the top and they have these risers where you can lean over and look down through the glass," she said. "After it happened the next day I got tears in my eyes knowing what they'd done ..." her voice trails off.

From left, city firefighters Steve Plante, Beth Blake, Cam Mclean talk about their emotions as they look back on the events of 20 years ago today. (Rochester Voice photo)

Asked if she was referring to people jumping from the top of the towers to their deaths, she nodded, sadness etched on her face.

Even more chilling, she said, was that coincidentally she'd been visiting Washington on Sept. 10 and had a flight back to New Hampshire scheduled for the 11th but for no particular reason - "I had weird feeling," she said - she changed it leaving early on Sept. 10.

Looking back, she recalls the bizarre moment frozen in time she'll never get ride of: the unforgettable trauma of facing one of the Sept. 11 hijackers face to face at Baltimore Washington International airport prior to boarding her flight.

"I was at an ATM at the airport and turned around and saw this man," she said. "He looked so evil looking I will never forget it. A few days later when I got back to my home (in Sunapee at the time) I saw his photo on TV, he was one of the hijackers."


Rochester Fire Capt. Steve Plante, a city firefighter for more than 20 years, was about as far away from the hustle and bustle of New York City as you could get on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, beginning a weeklong bear hunt in Patten, Maine, about 60 miles north of Mount Katahdin.

But before the morning was over, as he and his hunting buddies huddled around a single transistor radio listening to the unthinkable, the hairs on the back of his neck told him we were in a war like never before.

He said the hunting trip began relaxing enough, but it didn't stay that way long.

"You don't go out after bear till afternoon, and we'd gone out Monday and one of the guys had got one," Plante said on Thursday. "In the morning we were just hanging around at camp and trading stories about Monday's hunt.

"There was no TV, all we had was a small radio, and one of the guys overheard that a plane had crashed ( 8:46 a.m.) into one of the towers."

Plante said three-fourths of those on the hunt were from New York and New Jersey who were either firefighters or police or had family who were, so swapping tales from Monday's hunt quickly quieted as they listened raptly to the voices coming from the radio.

"It was very strange, we were all gathered around this little radio, and listening to people telling us what they were seeing," he said. "And no one's cell phones were working."

He said when they heard the second plane hit the World Trade Center's South Tower at 9:03 a.m. they knew it was no accident, the country was under attack.

Looking back now, he said everyone in the group recognized we were at war, "but we hand no idea what this country was in for; it was very scary."

As soon as the second plane hit, a lot of the guys from New York and New Jersey began packing their stuff to get ready for a nine-hour drive back home, he said.

"It's weird, we all went up there to enjoy the outdoors, and it turned into total chaos," Plante recalled.


One of the youngest firefighters on the force, Cam Mclean said he was only a year old when 9/11 happened but knew growing up the date had immeasurable significance.

However, he said he never truly understood the gravity of the day till he was 10 or 11 and studying it in school.

"I knew the number "343" was significant, but never really understood until then," he said, noting that 343 firefighters died in New York City that day. "I mean looking back now, 20 years, it really isn't that long ago."

Both Plante and Blake said the day had had profound impacts on their lives.

For Plante, the country will never be the same.

"The overall security, while needed, is frustrating to me," he said. "For me, I will never fly again."

"It still affects me, it's affected me for a long time," Blake added. "I feel it gets lost on the younger people, it's so different going through it. One thing hasn't changed. We still go running into buildings to save people just like they did on 9/11. That's our job."

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