‘They’re America’s heroes’

Morgan Day

Kent firefighters keep Sept. 11 in their thoughts today

Firefighter Shawn Baynes and Fire Capt. Dave Manthey remember Sept. 11 outside the fire station in Kent. Photo by Caitlin Prarat | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Kent firefighter Shawn Baynes, standing before a neon yellow fire truck, jangled change in the pocket of his trousers as he recalled the Sept. 11 attacks, which occurred six years ago today.

Baynes, who has been with the Kent Fire Department for nine years, was waiting to begin medical training at the fire department on Sept. 11, 2001. He remembered hearing a plane struck the Twin Towers, but like most of the firefighters there, he thought it was a horrible accident.

It wasn’t until the second plane crashed that those at the fire station began to piece the events together.

“It just got real somber after that,” Baynes said about the mood in the station after the second crash occurred. “We spent the rest of the day watching the news.”

A constant reminder

Baynes said although the attacks happened six years ago, it’s a memory he just can’t shake.

“It’s probably always in the back of your head,” he said.

Capt. Dave Manthey remembers clearly what was going through his mind that day.

“It was just — ‘wow,’ until the first tower started to come down,” Manthey said. “And then it sunk in with a lot of us because those were our fellow firefighters going into those towers.”

He said with a job such as firefighting, it’s important to hold on to that recollection. Not only is it important for rescuers, but for all citizens.

“Overall, it’s a preparedness thing,” he said. “And I think that’s what 9/11 taught people — is just to be a little more prepared.”

‘It’s what we do’

Manthey said the firefighters who stepped into the collapsing skyscrapers that day had a duty to fulfill, just like any other employee.

“It’s our job,” Manthey said. “It’s what we do. You don’t dwell on it.”

He said all firefighters know the inherent risk involved when they agree to the job.

He said a great number of people — not just in Kent — think large-scale disasters could never happen near them. That, however, is not the case, he said.

“It could happen anywhere — that’s just the thing,” he said. “It’s just a general feeling. If people allow things to dictate their lives, they’re going to be walking around looking over their shoulder for the next big thing to happen.”

Firefighting is a brotherhood

For Chief James Williams, the Sept. 11 attacks hit especially close to home. He had friends who worked for the New York City Fire Department — three of whom were killed.

“I (still) think about it,” he said. “I think about the guys that I knew and even about the guys I didn’t know. Firefighting is such a brotherhood. … They’re still your brothers and part of your profession.”

Manthey, who describes the members of the Kent Fire Department as family, called those who braved danger six years ago heroes.

“They’re America’s heroes,” he said. “We joke around with (that title) here at the fire station, but it’s true.”

However, it will be a day’s work as usual today at the station, Williams said.

“I think that we will approach (today) like any other day, but I think all of us – in the back of our minds — will be thinking about the events of that day and those who were killed that day,” he said.

A better-prepared Kent

Williams said since 2001, money has come in through the county level, giving the fire department the opportunity to purchase newer technology and better equipment to deal with large-scale crises.

The department uses its experiences to help it determine what it needs, he said.

“We learn everyday, and we learn from things that occur from our business everyday,” Williams said. “So we base those changes on things that we’ve learned.”

For instance, because of better technology, the Portage County Hazardous Materials Response Team can now identify hazardous materials in about three minutes, compared to the two to three hours in previous years.

He said the county also spent between $500,000 and $600,000 on equipment to deal with structural collapse.

“Whether it’s a day to day issue, we just didn’t have the equipment six years ago that we have now,” Williams said.

Contact public affairs reporter Morgan Day at [email protected].