In New York, where it is common for many generations in a family to become firefighters or police officers, something not as typical in Los Angeles, the fatalities had a compound impact. At one particularly devastating funeral, engine engineer Armando Carillo remembers, "We met two brothers who said they had seven family members lost. Their brother got killed there, their father was a battalion chief who got dug up twice out of the rubble" and survived, "and they had two Port Authority relatives, a cousin and an uncle, killed there."
Though they didn't know the men personally, they related to the eulogies they heard in ways they hadn't expected. "We've all gotten injured at some point," said Carillo, a firefighter for 28 years. "It brings it close to home." Truck Capt. Barry Nugent, a 30-year veteran, added, "It touched all of us so deeply because you realize the impact: It's not just a brother that we lost, but a wife whose husband isn't coming back, children who are not going to see their father anymore."
"You don't really think about it affecting you," said Carillo, "until you're right there and you hear a kid say 'I want my daddy.'" (At last count, 980 firefighters' children were left fatherless as a result of the attacks.)
Particularly striking, said Broman, was the culture that supports the families of New York firefighters.
"When they have a firefighter death, they ask guys from that station if they want to be part of a support team for the family. And whatever that family needs, if they need help with funeral arrangements, if the house needs painting or they need to be driven somewhere, for the rest of their lives they will always be taken care of, and their wives will always be invited to everything that goes on in the department, just as if their husband was still working for them."
It's a custom that will be strained mightily, and an obligation that weighs heavily on the firefighters who are left behind. But the L.A. firefighters found they were able to help their counterparts by sharing some of the emotional burden. Carillo noted that "they couldn't really talk to their fellow firefighters, because they were all going through it, and they couldn't talk to their families because they didn't want to worry them even more. And civilians on the street wouldn't understand. So here we were, and they saw that we're the same, we're brothers, so they just started pouring it out, and it started snowballing."
As they paid their respects at firehouses around the city, Mosier said, the Californians realized how strongly New York firefighters identify with their stations. "They go to a station, and they stay there for years and years. Every station has a patch for their station, and now we've all professed a desire to have a patch for our stations, too," he said, though, Mosier recalls, his own L.A. County patch was met with skepticism by one of the New York firefighters he met.
"He saw the bear and said, 'Are you zoo police?' Then he stood back realizing, 'You came here for me?' And I said, 'Yeah, we volunteered.' He said, 'You paid your own way. You'd do that for us?' I said 'You'd do that for us.' And he said, 'I hope to God I never have to.'"
Sadness always lingered just below the surface, said Nugent. "They were just very warm. And you're laughing and joking with a guy, and the next minute you're in tears."
"Some of them knew 100 of the men who were lost," he said. "You can see the guilt in their eyes. Their troubles are just beginning." And, all agreed, this will be a tough winter for them. "We had a Thanksgiving celebration, and they do the same thing: All the families come down to the station, kids are running around, it's like a big family reunion," Broman said. "And now Christmas is coming, it's hard for me to grasp how they can deal with it."
Before they left L.A., the men at Station 110 shared their feelings about their own fire department, said Broman.
"We said it's the best job in the world, and if I had a choice of any fire department to work for, this is the one I'd want to work for. And that view changed when we went back there, because those guys in New York, the character, the commitment and the respect they give each other, the brotherhood they bring to the job, it was clear to me they're No. 1. I could never say enough about them. It was such a powerful lesson. Every time I spoke to one of those guys, it felt like an honor."
The firefighters returned to Los Angeles exhausted but felt rewarded, and they all echoed the sentiment of one: "We went back there to help those guys, but they gave us as much as we gave them."
A few of the men have stayed in touch with their New York peers via e-mail. And all of them said they are making a point of spending more time with their children now, said Nugent.
"You want to hug your wife more, and you hold her just a little bit tighter, a little bit longer," he said. "You are thankful you have a family, for being able to hug your kids, being able to go to a baseball game."
Broman said the trip to New York has had a permanent effect.
"The guys that went before said it was a life-changing experience, and it was," he said. "Everybody that's gone has used those particular words. It was a lesson in courage and commitment to the job. It was heartwarming to hear these guys' stories and see them open up and be able to talk about some of their loss. And it was just an honor to be there with those guys, men of such quality."
Added Price, "They asked us to honor the dead, and it was an honor for us to do that. I would say it was the most honorable thing I've done in my career."