ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — About one month after the world watched the September 11, 2001 attacks unfold on live TV, five Rogers firefighters packed their bags and headed to the Big Apple.
“We just had an urge of wanting to help,” Scott Mendham said.
Mendham, who’s now retired, served the Rogers Fire Department for more than 20 years.
Fire Captain Shawn Treat said, “for me, it wasn’t even a question. I had to go, I needed to go see this.”
At the time, Treat was about two years into what’s become a 22 year career with the Rogers Fire Department.
The group who responded consisted of Mendham, Treat, the late Captain Michael Cerasale, Captain Jeff Parks and Captain Mike Braswell.
The crew paid their own way and used personal time off to make the trip.
They went to assist the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) with rescue missions, but according to Mendham, “they switched operations to recovery so we just went to be support.”
When they got to NYC, they stayed at a hotel in Lower Manhattan that Treat said was within walking distance of ground zero.
“It was hard to imagine. It was hard to even believe what you were seeing. The smoke was still rising from the fires that were burning floors deep in the ground, metal workers were still cutting rubble out of the way. They had dump trucks that were being filled, they were going through an ally where they would spray all the debris down so the dust wouldn’t fly off the trucks,” he said.
He remembered he looked around the city and saw large diameter hoses were still laid down the street where FDNY fireboats were pumping in water because infrastructure was shut down in lower Manhattan.
Treat, Mendham and the rest of the Rogers firefighters walked right up to the area where the towers fell.
Mendham said, “there was still a lot of smoke, all the guys still working on-site, the amount of dust and particles in the air, it was unbelievable just to be there.”
It was blocked off but they said a police officer at the barricade let them through. They watched as Firefighters searched through the ash and rubble in hopes they’d find one of their own.
“The look on these firefighter faces that were digging on the pile. They were looking for the guys that they had just worked with,” Treat continued, “it’s hard for a lot of us to even believe that 343 fire fighters perished. If you take all of the firefighters in Northwest Arkansas and lump them together, that’s pretty much all of the big departments.”
The group attended funeral services for fallen firefighters they had never even met and also paid their respects to those who were found dead at ground zero while they were there.
“We were at ground zero when they sounded the horns and we didn’t know what that meant. They found a band of four or six firefighters and they asked everybody to stand in attention so we stood in attention. There was a whole line of firefighters and there was a row of ambulances and they took each firefighter out, covered them with American flags and they would load one firefighter at a time in an ambulance and then they would leave,” Mendham said.
With tear-filled eyes Treat said, “to say it was emotional was an understatement, It moved me deeply to a point that I have never been back.”
After a few days, the five firefighters made their way back to Northwest Arkansas.
“It was a galvanizing experience, it was a galvanizing event. It was something that brought the country together at that point in time when we didn’t even realize that we needed to be brought together,” Treat said.
The devastation they saw firsthand has stayed in their minds almost two decades later, as has the camaraderie they built with FDNY and other firefighters from around the world who joined in their efforts.
“None of those guys knew who we were. Five firefighters from Arkansas come to New York and they just took us in like we were one of them. The brotherhood shown throughout the whole experience was just amazing,” Mendham said.