9/11 remembered 15 years later

RAW VIDEO: Former FDNY recalls responding to 9/11 attacks
(Devin Futrelle | WBTV)
(Devin Futrelle | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - On Sunday, Americans will mark 15 years since terrorists attacked the country on September 11, 2001.

Most people remember exactly where they were that day. But for High School freshmen  - Class of 2020 - it's a day in history. Most freshmen were born after 9/11.

Others, like Peter Blaich, survived it.

"It feels like yesterday to me. It really does. I can't believe that it's 15 years" Blaich said.

Blaich retired from the New York Fire Department after 25 years with the department. He's now a firefighter with Cornelius-Lemley Fire Department.

9/11 is seared in his memory.

"I was assigned to Engine Company 9 in Lower Manhattan. I was working that day" Blaich said. "My company was one of the initial companies on the initial alarm to the north tower. "

Blaich said they went inside to conduct fire fighting operations, and made it as far as the 43rd floor - just  below the service elevators.

"The Captain that was with us, in the company next to us, he ordered the evacuation because he was in communication with one of the other companies that was higher up and they started to have some structural collapses within the towers itself and he said we're on borrowed time. You need to stop coming up and just everybody you can and get them down and out."

Blaich said he and the fire fighters with him started to make their way back down.

"We took a bunch of civilians that were with us that were coming down, that were burnt that were injured, that weren't ambulatory ,and we basically carried them down to the lobby."

The lobby would be impassable.

"The lobby was completely sealed with debris from the collapse of the South Tower and just by luck we had an officer that day that was working with us that was normally assigned to a company that responds to those buildings all the time and he told us if we dropped down to the sub-basement one more level we can come out basically out of the footprint of the building underneath to an adjoining street."

They did that but they still weren't out of danger.

"And when we got on to the platform to the sub-basement to make our way to the street that's when the North Tower collapsed," Blaich recounted. "Me and the guys there were basically trapped out of the footprint  but underneath the street in Lower Manhattan for like three hours before we were able to get out."

A decade and a half later, Blaich said 9/11 isn't always easy to talk about.

"I would think it gets easier as time but as time goes on it gets harder being more removed from it," he said. "All the people that I worked with are really gone now. A lot of people I worked with got sick – cancer – passed away from it. And a lot of people just retired and didn't want to talk it anymore so they literally removed themselves from it. You see them at events every now and then. They very seldomly come back."

Blaich is worried the story of 9/11 won't be told completely.

"9/11 to me is more personal moments than a timeline of events. And it's little things like firemen that I knew that left notes on their locker that if I don't come back please tell my wife and children that I love them. "It was people that made phone calls on the apparatus responding down to the Trade Center that called home and left a message on the cell phone or call answering machine that said hey I'm going to bad fire and hopefully I'll call you when it's over. If not tell the kids I love 'em."

"For me that's really part of the history on a personal level and it's harder as time goes on to keep that part of it alive. And I  can sit here and tell you chronological order of events and how many victims and how much recovery and all that but it's those personal stories I really feel that need to be put in to the history as it's taught to the future generations."

The kids who were born just after the 9/11 attacks are now starting high school.

That day in American history is something they heard about.

Hopewell High School allowed WBTV to come in and talk with freshmen.

A student said "I've heard some very bad stuff but there's also been some positive outcomes of 9/11. America grouping together as one."

Another freshman said "I was told about the terrorist Al Qqada and that it was a national attack."

A young girl heard it this way.

"It's more of a U-S as a unity. Because this terrorist attack it brought us all together. All the U-S. Every single state. It wasn't just in New York. It affected the whole country."

History teacher Robb Bolar will try to bring the story of 9/11 alive for his freshmen.

"I want to start the conversation with what were your parents doing because that's tangible for them" Bolar said. "A lot of them want to interact with their parents or want to know what their parents do."

Bolar talks about the scare that gripped Charlotte on 9/11.

"A lot of these parents in Charlotte thought that Charlotte was next" he said. "There are two financial institutes. New York and Charlotte. So a lot of them were worried."

What is the key thing that Bolar wants his students to understand about 9/11?

"I want them to know that history is full of reactions and as humans whether it's on a global scale or on a personal scale – human react" he said. "And so how do humans react. We saw how America reacted and we can look at the positives and negatives of that but I really want these kids to see that reaction is a world wide event."

Retired FDNY firefighter Peter Blaich hopes history books do 9/11 justice.

"I can sit here and tell you that at 8:46 the North Tower was hit. I can tell you that they were over 20,000 people evacuated that day. It was and remains the greatest rescue and evacuation in the history of the country" Blaich said. "A lot of things that other people don't know as much of is the fact that over 500,000 people were rescued from Lower Manhattan by boat."

But Blaich worries about what history won't or can't recount.

"There's a lot of historical facts that people may not be aware of but I think what really makes the history...what will preserve it in history is the individuals and their moments in time within it. I don't know if you can put that in a book. I don't know if you can put that in text."

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