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The brotherhood and Ground Zero

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I don't have any siblings -- not one brother or sister to call my own. Growing up, there were a few only-child kids on my block, and, looking back, the absence of a sibling was never really an issue.

I remember very few times actually wanting a brother, and when I did it was usually because there was no one around to play with.

9/11: Ten Years Later

  • 9/11: Ten Years Later

    As the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 approaches, we explore the impact that the attacks -- and their aftermath -- had upon the world.

  • Return to Ground Zero

    Winnipeg firefighter Jay Shaw blogs about his journey to New York City for the 10th anniversary of 9-11

I think I can understand my friends who have brothers who say it's a love-hate thing; after all, having a brother would be very cool -- a role model to look up to, or a sibling to mould and boss around.

When I was young, like so many young boys, I wanted to become a firefighter, and when I realized that dream in 2000, I started to gain an understanding of the term brotherhood and how it can have nothing to do with genetically similar relatives.

I've played on sports teams and even made some pretty tight bonds with teammates, but nothing has compared to the bonds I've developed with firefighters.

I think 9/11 showed the world more than any event that the firefighter brotherhood is a tangible element. FDNY members refused to leave ground zero and had to be arrested and removed from digging for their brothers.

The fire service is such a tightly knit organization it's hard to put a finger on one thing that solidifies the connection among firefighters.

Maybe it's the unspoken knowledge that you will put your life on the line for the community you serve and the firefighters who work beside you.

There is no pledge or rule that says you have to be brave or courageous, rather a silent creed that is accepted when hired that says when "it" happens, you will respond and do what is required to help.

The problem with this line of work is that we never know what "it" will be. It's this unknown that makes the bond so unique and so special. That's the job; we love it and accept the risks that come along with all the folklore and traditions that come with it.

It doesn't matter if you're a firefighter from Wichita, Kan., Winnipeg, or New York City -- our commitment to each other is absolute, and I am honoured to serve with the firefighters with whom I work. I can think of no other career besides the emergency services sector and the military that offers so much in this way.

Call it a fraternity or club if you wish, but I like "brotherhood" because it means more to me knowing that I'm part of a larger family. We eat together, live together, train together and do some of the most dangerous jobs you can imagine as a unit.

So when tragedy strikes our family it's this brotherhood we lean on to get us through.

This Sept. 11 marks the 10th anniversary of the most horrific fire-service tragedy the world has ever seen. Three hundred and forty-three New York City firefighters were killed when the World Trade Center collapsed, and that moment changed the way every firefighter looks at the job.

So many stories have been told of citizens being evacuated from the towers passing the FDNY firefighters as they unknowingly climbed to their deaths to help those trapped above them.

Do you remember where you were that day almost 10 years ago?

I was driving home from a night shift when my wife called me to tell me what had happened. I listened to the news radio program intensely, and I will never forget radio host Larry Updike and his surreal description of the towers as they collapsed.

That first Sunday after 9-11 I went to church -- I needed someone or something to make sense of it all. The sermon was about evil and how faith in mankind's goodwill is stronger.

I listened to the pastor speak, but I could only think about how our brotherhood will get us through this together. Although I'm not a regular church attendee, I took some solace in the messaging.

The toll on the FDNY was inconceivable, and the pain and sorrow could only be described as heartwrenching. Our Winnipeg department sent 50 members to attend funerals and services and our guys came back with stories of friendship and heartfelt appreciation for our understanding and our support.

I did not attend as I had just been hired by the City of Winnipeg from a smaller fire service in Manitoba. I have always wanted to go to New York, and I made a promise to myself that one day I would honour the sacrifice of the FDNY.

Two of the firefighter brothers I consider family (my kids call them uncle) and I will travel to New York for four days over this 10th anniversary to pay our respects and honour those brothers who died doing a job they loved. Thousands of firefighters across the world are expected to attend.

We will visit Ground Zero and some firehouses to hear the stories, and offer our condolences.

I need to be there, where it happened, and witness the sacred grounds that hold so many stolen souls.

I want to tell them that their brothers are our brothers too, and they are not forgotten.

I want to tell the guys who were there that the medical problems and mental-health issues they face are real, and we will fight for them as well.

But most importantly, I have to be there because my brother needs me.



Jay Shaw is a firefighter with the City of Winnipeg. Jay will be blogging at during and after his visit to New York City.

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