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Time spent at Ground Zero: Local Firefighter reflects 20 years later

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binghamton 9-11 memorial

BINGHAMTON (WBNG) - On the anniversary of September 11, 2001, the nation takes time to remember the thousands of people who lost their lives and the first responders who went to the scene.

In the Southern Tier, Firefighters wanted to do their part to help their brothers and sisters in the FDNY.

Binghamton Fire Marshal, Timothy O'Neill, who has been with the department for 34 years, said he was working when the planes hit the Twin Towers.

"We were just standing in disbelief," said O'Neill, "We watched, like everybody else. We were glued to the TV for days and days."

While their first reaction was to pack up their gear and go, organization was required. A group of them went down on September 21st.

"The Binghamton Fire Department became part of a coalition orchestrated by the Office of Fire Prevention and Control of New York State," said O'Neill, "We went down in mass as a group to help support our brothers and sisters at the FDNY and the people of New York City."

O'Neill was no stranger to the city. The year before he trained with the FDNY for a month having recently been promoted to Lieutenant.

"I talked with some people who subsequently died on 9/11," said O'Neill, "Conversations that I still hold in the back of my head."

During his time in New York, O'Neill went to the World Trade Center and took a photograph on top of the North Tower. A building that 18 months later would no longer stand.

"That's the only picture I ever look at anymore is that one."

While it had been ten days since the terrorist attacks, O'Neill describes a still very active scene.

"There was still fire, there were still things burning and smoke, and it was all very surreal. You could see in the distance the skeleton frame. We walked around for a while just ankle-deep in the dust."

"There was so much sadness in the air, pictures, people begging for information on their loved ones, names written in the dust, declarations of love and things like that, you never forget things like that."

"We saw guys that looked like they hadn't left for ten days. Firefighters who were looking for their brothers and sisters. It was all very surreal and sad, a sadness that still exists in me."

But through the sadness and grief were moments of light, of people coming together. He said New Yorkers, Firefighters, EMTs, and Police continuously showed their gratitude.

"That was memorable, being thanked for something that anybody should have done."

His hope on this anniversary is the Southern Tier takes time to reflect. He said the Memorial in Downtown Binghamton provides the perfect setting.

"It's a lovely place to come and spend a minute and just remember the almost 3,000 people that perished and people are still suffering because of it."

The Binghamton 9/11 Memorial is located on State Street next to City Hall. The city will host a remembrance event on Saturday at 10:30 A.M.

Kaitlin Pearson

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