By Abby Gibbs
Where were you on that Tuesday, September 11, 2001?
Most of us will never forget that morning we were forever changed by the four terrorist attacks on United States soil. While there are details, timelines, and facts that many may have forgotten, most remember where they were and how it affected their lives.
Let us refresh your memory or possibly, share facts you may not have heard:
Two of the planes that were hijacked were militants associated with the Islamic Extremist Group al-Qaeda who carried out the suicide attacks to fly the planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A third plane hit the Pentagon just outside of Washington, D.C. and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people were killed and more than 6,000 wounded that day during the attacks.
As we reconstruct details, many memories come to mind. Tuesday morning was like any other until 8:45 am when the first plane filled with passengers crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110 story skyscraper, killed hundreds of people and trapped hundreds more on the higher floors. There was absolute shock and chaos as evacuations went underway from the North Tower and the news began was broadcast across our television screens. 18 minutes after the first plane hit, a second Boeing 767-United Airlines Flight 175 appeared and crashed into the South Tower, near the 60th floor. Massive explosions and fires sent burning debris showering over the surrounding buildings and to the streets below where people were running, trying to escape the catastrophe.
September 11, 2001 was the deadliest day in history for New York City firefighters; 343 NYFD were killed.
This brings us to the presentation that was shared with Mauldin Community Residents on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 by NYFD retired, Billy Martin. The Mauldin Chamber of Commerce and the City of Mauldin hosted a lunch time presentation at the Mauldin Cultural Center featuring Mr. Martin.
Billy Martin and his wife, Kelly shared a first-hand account of his participation with the NYFD on September 11 and the effects it has had on himself, Kelly and their family. Billy was a member of the E-83 Fire Station and as they were called to began their trip for assistance to the then unknown situation, they expected to find a “normal” fire where they could handle and assist evacuation efforts. However, as they approached the North Tower location they were instructed to TURN AROUND and go to Fire Station E-35 in Harlem. From that point, they were to go as teams toward the call. Mr. Martin recounted his thoughts regarding turning around as a true moment of intervention by God for all the firefighters. If they had proceeded without turning around they would have been the first team to arrive at the North Tower and would have been caught in the total collapse of the first tower. Instead, they arrived with the E-35 team and were able to park at a distance near the Arch Bridge and begin to load up 50 ft. hoses with all their gear and head in to “save lives and property”. Little did they realize that in a matter of minutes the giant steel skyscrapers would collapse. Bringing dust, smoke, and concrete all around, causing even more chaos and death. The Firemen witnessed people jumping out of windows and sounds no one would ever forget. Billy shared that he still smells the smoke and hears the sounds when he thinks or talks about the events, even 16 years later.
Firemen are expected to keep trying to rescue and control fires. However, with fire above and all around them and dense smoke visibility was impossible. Despite all danger these brave firemen put on their masks and headed straight into the path of destruction to do their jobs. Many times the fire firefighters found body parts and bodies rather than survivors. They had to remove their masks to be able see what what was directly in front of them. This severe hazard for breathing would cause significant harm on that day and effect their lungs and bodies for years to come.
343 NYFD were lost and of that number, 50-75 were not even on duty. The 50-75 off-duty firemen operated as normal as many firemen do, even on their “days off”. They hear or see an emergency and bring aid. That is the heartbeat and pulse of a true firefighter…. a brotherhood and sisterhood of family, unique to answer the call even if it means giving their life to save another.
Those days were long and families grew weary while the firemen, police, medical personnel, and volunteers worked hours, days, weeks, and months to continue the effort. The additional toll of grief in attending daily funerals for months following this catastrophe took a toll. This is difficult when you loose one comrade, much less 343 in one day, along with those you may have known who worked in the World Trade Center.
The long-term damage to physical and mental health of victims and first responders had yet to surface. Mr. Martin has lung damage diagnosed by his Pulmonary Specialist and had to retire the day before his 40th birthday in 2006. This damage typically takes 12 years away from ones age. You may wonder why a firefighter who dealt with smoke so often would have these lung issues. The answer is asbestos along with a cocktail of other chemicals that combined in the explosions and collapse.
After retiring, Billy’s was diagnosed with PTSD. When Billy’s wife Kelly was asked how this had changed their family life she shared very insightful information regarding the day-to-day changes they will continue to experience. Both Billy and Kelly agreed their philosophy has become one of letting the event be something they learn from. To use it as a positive, to keep their family close, and show kindness to others, but not to let it define them or become prisoners and destroy their lives through addiction or self-destruction. Billy has buddies from his team with the fire department he has seen handle the aftermath in very unhealthy ways. He continues to point them toward counseling, seeking a church family, and serving others while building relationships rather than taking the pathways of self-destruction that are so prevalent among first responders.
So, how did the Martin Family get to Mauldin, South Carolina? They knew they were ready for a new life away from the memories and conditions of New York City and even the countryside surrounding NYC where they had tried to live. Kelly and Billy wanted to seek out a “new beginning” in an area where their family could pursue Catholic schooling for their 3 children. They recall being in downtown Greenville, SC and eating at Grill Marks in February of 2014 when the temperature was 70 degrees and they wore short sleeve shirts as they spoke with friends in NYC experiencing 17 degree temperatures with 18 inches of snow. Their decision was made during that phone call. Resolution came when they found St. Joseph Catholic School in Greenville. They searched other states: Texas, North Carolina, and Tennessee but felt a calling to come to St. Joseph and move their family to Greenville.
On September 11, 2001 Billy transformed from a young man of 33 to the man he is still becoming. He is an avid entrepreneur in addition to his previous career with NYFD. He is proud of his business as a home inspector and being involved in every aspect of the family and their church as the kids are now growing and going to college to find their own dreams. The children and Kelly look at their Dad and Husband with great respect as “their HERO”. After being a part of his presentation today in Mauldin, NYFD Billy Martin is certainly a HERO of ours, too.
Welcome to Mauldin, Billy and Kelly Martin Family!