INSIDE Chico State
0 October 25, 2001
Volume 32 Number 4
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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From Chico State to Ground Zero

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Brogan Healy shortly before he left for New York to train as a firefighter
photo: courtesy of Mary Jo Healy

Chico grad’s first day on the job was on Sept. 11 with Ladder Co. 34 in New York City

Brogan Healy graduated from CSU, Chico in May 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in history. Brogan then landed his first job. His job? Firefighter with Ladder Co. 34 in New York City. His first day of work? Sept. 11, 2001.

Instead of spending the day at the firehouse uptown as he expected, Brogan was sent downtown to the site of the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers. He spent three days straight working at “ground zero.” Then Brogan and the other rookies were sent back to their firehouses, as the more experienced firefighters proceeded with the dangerous work.

“‘What is it like down there?’ Everyone asks me this question. You can’t imagine,” he says. There is a long pause, then a sigh. “It’s really hard to describe. There are giant waves or ski slopes of metal debris every way you turn. Huge cranes, dump trucks, back hoes—heavy earth-moving machines are lined up at the perimeters, waiting their turns to go in.

“It’s our job as firefighters to assist with the rescue or recovery of victims. But lately, when I have gone down to the site to work, I’m told simply to stand by; all I can do is watch the machines lift and carry off load after load of debris. And then, every once in a while, there will be a body part in a load. It’s just gruesome.”

Brogan has done nine double shifts at the disaster site since Sept. 11. On days off, Brogan has volunteered to work at the crash site, covered the shift of a firefighter who wanted to attend a funeral, attended a funeral himself, or slept—all day long.

Brogan says that it is hard for him to grasp the reality of the World Trade Center crashes, even though he has been at the site. “But what does hit home are the funerals,” he says. There are several funerals every day for New York firefighters, and among the mourners are firefighters from all over the country. Fortunately no firefighters from Ladder Co. 34 or any of Brogan’s close friends died in the tragedy.

How is Brogan doing? “I’m really tired, but I’m OK.” He adds quickly that the people who live in the neighborhood near the firehouse have been very supportive. “Firehouses all over New York are decorated with cards and lit candles. Our neighbors hold prayer sessions in front of the firehouse and bring us food,” he says.

“Ours is a pretty tough neighborhood, and a real sense of community has developed among us. I sure hope the city doesn’t lose this bond.”
Brogan has always wanted to be a firefighter, noting that the desire to join the profession seems to run in families. His grandfather was a firefighter in San Francisco for 30 years, and an uncle was a firefighter in Santa Cruz, where

Brogan’s family lives. Brogan got his associate’s degree in fire science at Butte College during a break from his studies at CSU, Chico. Once he had received his bachelor’s degree from CSU, Chico, he went to New York City. He chose New York because he wanted to work in a large, busy city where he would really be needed.

Since the fire department is called upon to solve an enormous number of public safety problems, a typical day on the job, if there is such a thing, might include answering a call for help with a water, gas, or radiator leak; lifting people out of stuck elevators; attending to the injured at car accidents; and, of course, fighting fires.

“I really love going to work!” he says. “All of the 25 men in Ladder Co. 34 are like family. I’m still the new guy who has to wash the dishes or scrub the trucks. But I don’t care—I just love being a part of it all.”

“It’s well known that firefighters go to work early, even an hour and a half early, just because they love their work,” Brogan explains. On a somber note, Brogan says that a lot of the firefighters who died on Sept. 11 were not officially at work when the disaster call was made to their stations (shifts begin at 9 am and 9 pm). Some had simply arrived at work early, and so they went along with those still on duty when they answered the call.

But then Brogan laughs. “At fire science school,” he says, “they used to tell us all the time, ‘Some day, when you’re a firefighter going to work, you’ll pass a lot of unhappy-looking people who are also going to work. But every once in a while, you’ll pass someone who is really smiling, and you’ll know that that person is a firefighter.’”

“And it’s true,” Brogan says.

Sue Reynolds

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