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Retired New York firefighter shares his 9/11 experiences
Jerry and Melody Maranich
Jerry Marinich, Rotary Club of Forsyth County member, shared his experiences on 9/11 during a meeting on Sept. 20. He is shown here with wife Melody.

By George Pirkle, For the Forsyth County News

Jerry Marinich, one of the Rotary Club of Forsyth County’s newest members, shared his experiences on 9/11 during a meeting on Sept. 20.

Jerry was a firefighter in the Binghamton N.Y. Fire Department and had just been promoted to lieutenant when he left on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2001 for a four-week long training session at Fort Totton, in Bayside Queens. 

All the firemen in his class were scheduled to visit and tour — top to bottom — the World Trade Center at some point. But mid-morning on Sept. 11, 2001 they were told to grab their gear and cram all the first aid gear they could in their pockets. The training had turned into something else entirely.

His fellow firefighters arrived shortly after the towers fell. They were ready to help, but Jerry says the FDNY didn’t want them to go in.  They wanted their own firefighters to handle it and they understood. This is not as unreasonable as it might sound — every fire department has its own way of doing things and teams from other cities could wreak havoc trying to work at cross-purposes with each other.

So Jerry and the other upstate firefighters started looking for personal objects: photos, plaques, purses, briefcases — anything that might help identify victims. They created a pile of found objects out of the path of personnel and emergency equipment, which was continuing to arrive. 

They worked in the middle of complete chaos until the sun started going down. Then they decided to hail a taxi to get back to Fort Totton. Surprise — no taxis were running. 

After several fruitless searches for transportation, they found a police precinct office. They were met with drawn pistols, because their firefighting gear didn’t look anything like FDNY’s. Finally, they convinced the police officers that they really were actual firefighters from upstate New York.  Unfortunately, there seemed to be no way to get them back to Fort Totton. 

Then one of the officers had an idea: they could ride in the police department horse trailer. “Luckily they had hosed it down just that morning,” Marinich said.

The trip was eerie.

“No traffic, no horns blowing and no planes flying overhead in downtown Manhattan,” Marinich said.

Once back at Fort Totton, Jerry remembers “the training sessions were cancelled.”

Jerry managed to get through to his wife, Melody, who was at home in Binghamton. They had been unable to reach each other on what was the longest day of their lives.

Jerry says that 343 firefighters died that day, and “another 200 have died of related illnesses since 9/11 from exposure to the toxic dust that was floating in the air.”