By “Cousin” Sal Banchitta (RET FDNY)
20 years of 9/11 is coming at us fast.
To many, it really feels like just yesterday.
This video celebrates the dedicated work and creative brilliance of Andrea Booher, world class photographer from FEMA. I was called by the producers to review her catalog of 9/11 work and give my feedback on the selections for this project. Her body of work is extensive and truly remarkable, and selecting a limited few for this presentation was both an honor and a major challenge.
Seeing the production come together, I find these photos to be priceless gems in our world history. They hold the task of helping us heal and turn the page from living the tragedy and (many of us even) lost others to illness or mental health. But to recover and endure is an essential part of continuing with our lives and be empowered.
The selection of photos after 20 years showed the most tasteful representation of the resilience of the American people and especially of New York City by showing that we have recovered and gone forward. I personally don't need to see any more images of planes hitting the towers anymore (we have those images burned in our memories enough)- and I personally don't need to see individual pain and suffering. Andrea's images have a cinematic way about them- like a single frame in a feature film. Of course they record history, but each photo seems to have a way of speaking to us that there is a "next" (or hope) after all this- and that this is not the end. Each image feels like a line in a poem that is part of a larger story that promises a reveal. By presenting 2001 sandwiched with footage from 2021 (the aftermath) makes complete sense, leading our present day as an uplifting message of strength and spirit.
Concluding the photo showcase was Chief Bobby (Halton)- generously sharing his own experiences about and around 9/11. As a natural leader and communicator, Chief Halton delivered with candor, sincerity and compassion that really brought everything together for anyone personally affected - and whose memories are forever marred by ground zero. Many in the fire service finds him to be the most relatable voice for the people, and he did not disappoint when speaking about a topic so heavy and emotional as the 9/11 attacks both then and now.
Contrasting yesterday with today, Andrea’s stunning photographs captured and preserved time, and all the feelings that came with it. Beyond the terrible tragedy, it's important to learn from the past and go forward to the future for the next generations. It drives us to accept the positives and the negatives in better perspective of what really transpired during those very difficult times and this horrendous attack on our country. Somebody mentioned to me once that the generation of the fire service who operated at that scene were trained for normal fire operating procedures, we were never train for a missile attack on a structure like a high rise building. How were we supposed to fight a fire or an emergency with an inbound missile hitting a building? Those planes (make no doubt about it) were missiles. So I think that we can learn from our past, and if we’re smart enough to learn from our past, it makes us stronger as a people.
Having the new freedom tower as the aftermath to all that destruction with its beauty and pride is a powerful uplift for the community. I recall there being a lot of controversy about building another high rise tower- but I'm glad to have our beautiful symbol of pride and spectacular resilience.