Providence firefighter recounts 9/11 experience

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PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — Members of the Providence Fire Department and Local 799 Tuesday morning gathered for an annual remembrance ceremony to honor those lost during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Providence Commissioner of Public Safety Steven Paré spoke to the crowd, mostly comprised of firefighters.

“Seventeen years ago seems like yesterday that the brave men and women in public safety ran towards the horrific site,” Paré said.

Paul Doughty, president of Local 799, also addressed the crowd.

“That morning, firefighters showed up to work, they hung their coats on the truck, and they went about their morning activities. They knew they were marching up those stairs to their death, and they did not turn away,” Doughty said.

Doughty was one of three Providence firefighters deployed to help crews in New York. He spoke to Eyewitness News after the ceremony about that fateful day.

“The city was completely quiet. There wasn’t a car moving, there wasn’t a pedestrian walking. It was really the sound of silence. We quickly went to work to begin search and rescue operations, and unfortunately were unsuccessful,” Doughty said.

Doughty said his team from Providence was the first on scene, not counting the New York firefighters already there.

“There was sort of just this hope that we would find somebody that survived. And we saw the first day, saw the second day, and with each sort of passing hour after that, we knew the odds were diminishing. It was sort of surreal to have 3,000 people perish and really no search and rescue successful recovery to speak of,” Doughty said.

Doughty’s team helped to search the scene at the World Trade Center. He recalled seeing how the wreck pulverized almost every object in the building.

“There were no desks, no chairs, no computers, no telephones- barely anything you could recognize. It had just all turned to dust,” Doughty said.

Returning from New York, Doughty said life as he knew it had changed forever.

“We had kind of been in a bubble for those seven days while we operated there; no TV, no radio, no news at all. [We] sort of just focused on our task and we returned to Rhode Island and we returned to really a different city, a different state and a different country,” Doughty said.

Seventeen years later, he still thinks of the attacks often.

“I think about where were as a country before that day, where we were in the weeks and months after that, and where we are today. With the divisiveness, it’s a moment to kind of put all that aside and remember everything that brought us together as a country.”

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