For many Americans who were alive at the time, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 carry special connections and lasting memories. This is all the more true for police, firefighters and other emergency personnel.
Of the 2,977 victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 412 were first responders and emergency workers. In spite of the distance, many emergency professionals across the country felt the weight of the loss in New York.
"Even though we were thousands of miles away, people were more thankful of the sacrifices or possible sacrifices that police and firefighter make due to that one tragic event," Sherman Assistant Chief Bruce Dawsey said. "It made people realize that when everyone else is running away, we are the ones running toward it."
Of the first responders who answered to the call for help that day, 343 firefighters, including the department chief for the New York City Fire Department, were killed in the attacks. Another 60 police officers between the New York City Police Department and New York Port Authority were also killed, as were eight private emergency medical technicians and one FDNY patrolman.
Dawsey said he found out about the attacks in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2001. He had just finished a shift on night patrol and had stopped at a gas station for a cup of coffee after dropping his daughter off at school.
"I noticed everyone was staring at the television," Dawsey said. "I asked what was going on and they said a little plane has hit the World Trade Center. They thought it was a little plane."
Dawsey got a better look at the site once he got home and was able to turn on the news. While early indications were that a small plane had hit the north tower, Dawsey said he remembers thinking that the damage looked bad for a small aircraft.
"The next thing I know, a second plane came in and hit the (south) tower," Dawsey said. "I think that was the moment the whole world realized it was not an accident."
It was with this second attack that Dawsey said he began to notice the police and fire department presence on the site. In many of the news feeds, you could see a myriad of emergency vehicles on site.
"When that second plane hit, you noticed all the fire trucks and police cars, and of course, when the tower went down you knew all of those people were in the building. You knew the toll was going to be high and it was the police and fire, who notoriously don’t make a lot working to save the people, who were making this unreal sacrifice."
As the morning went on, Dawsey continued to watch more and more of the events unfold and the full scale of the attacks became apparent.
"Then they were saying there may be other plane going toward Washington D.C. and at that moment I thought, ’That’s it, we are going to war, but with who?’," Dawsey said.
Dawsey did not sleeping much that day, and there was subdued mood in the department when he returned for his next shift. That night Dawsey and several other officers went out and purchased the American flags that were hung across the city.
The ultimate sacrifice is always a real possibility in the world of emergency response, Dawsey said. Many officers and firefighters have made that sacrifice over the years, however, the possibility was never on full display like it was on 9/11.
"There is always that thought that when you leave and go to work and tell your family bye — is this the last time?" Dawsey said. "That is what we always tell recruits. You are always guaranteed you will come to work, but there is no guarantee when or if you will go home. We don’t have a job that just because it is the end of your shift, you get to leave. Some do not get to leave."
In the days that followed, Dawsey, a U.S. Army veteran, considered reenlisting as a way of serving the country in an unprecedented time.
He attributed that desire to a combination of patriotism and pride that comes from service to the community.
"Which is why most people signed up. It was a way of saying, ’You can’t do this to us, and here is why,’" said Dawsey who considered himself older then.
He had been out of the service for nearly a decade.
"I actually talked to my wife about reenlisting, but we had small kids at the time," he said. "She put it to me that I had served my time, and I was continuing to serve by serving the local community."