Monday, September 17, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Isle firefighters solemn
but remain firm in duty

By Rosemarie Bernardo

It was not hard for Honolulu Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi to put a face on the devastation of last week's terrorist attacks.

He had met one of the victims, New York Fire Chief Peter Ganci Jr., just last month at a conference in New Orleans.

"He was a very nice person ... quiet fellow," Leonardi said.

Ganci, among those confirmed dead, had been chief for two months and was looking forward to attending the Metro Chiefs Conference in Hawaii next year, Leonardi said.

Though separated by thousands of miles, distance has done little to ease the shock and disbelief felt by Hawaii's firefighters following last week's terror attacks.

"I can't begin to comprehend what the New York firefighters went through," said Capt. Guy Takayama of the Central Fire Station.

Nearly 300 firefighters remain lost beneath the heap of rubble of the World Trade's Center's twin towers. They were the first fire crews to respond to the call and became trapped when the buildings collapsed.

Hawaii residents have reached out to firefighters in New York, leaving behind flowers and lei in a makeshift memorial in front of the Central Fire Station.

Leonardi described the mood among Hawaii's fighters as "solemn" since Tuesday's attacks.

"To lose 300 firefighters is unheard of," he said, adding that many Oahu firefighters have offered to help in New York.

"There's a general sense of helplessness," Leonardi said. "It's hard for us to sit back and watch this."

Takayama added: "It's like a brotherhood. When something like this happens, we all feel it."

Meanwhile, Oahu fire stations have started collecting monetary donations to the New York Fire 9-11 Relief Fund. Money will go directly to the families of the fallen firefighters in New York, said Capt. Richard Soo, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department.

Although local firefighters feel a sense of sadness, Capt. Jeffrey Richardson of Ewa Beach Fire Station said it is unlikely the tragedies might force them to change their approach to a dangerous situation.

"Our first job is to protect life and property," Richardson said. "When an alarm comes up, we don't think about our safety first.

"I don't think that has changed since the terrorist attack."

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