But there was one story that was never told until Wednesday night.
Chuck Mackintosh, now the Chief of the Bayview Volunteer Fire Department, spent a few days following that fateful day in New York at the former World Trade Center site. He and seven colleagues spent those days working with New York City firefighters.
They spent their time clearing debris and recovering victims who had died.
When he left after a couple days of help, Mackintosh never spoke about what he saw.
At the time, Mackintosh was a lieutenant with the Teaneck Fire Department, Station No. 3. Sept. 11, 2001 began as any other day did for him at that time.
“I was driving from Galloway into Elizabeth and I saw the outline of the World Trade Center,” Mackintosh told those who assembled at Patriot Lake Park Wednesday night for the township’s 9/11 ceremony. “I never could’ve dreamed it would be the last time I would see it.”
He went on to say that as he and his team were returning to their station after fueling a truck, they were waved in by firefighters from Station No. 4.
“They told us an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center,” said Mackintosh, who wondered at the time which local airport the plane had come from. “We were watching on TV and we saw the second airplane hit. We knew then that they had not come from our airports.”
His team reported to an overturned truck on Route 95. There was no police presence on the roads. As they were waiting for a tow truck, all the traffic they had seen traveling into New York returned. No one was being allowed into that state.
Mackintosh’s department initially wanted to help with the recovery, but when the State of New York denied them access, the fire department told them they would not sponsor any trip to New York.
“They told us after work, we could do whatever we wanted, but we had to be in work the next day,” Mackintosh said.
So he and seven colleagues boarded a ferry after work and went to help with the recover efforts.
“We went over that night and it was total devastation,” Mackintosh said.
He and his colleagues joined the Bucket Brigade, a group assigned to sort debris into piles. Mackintosh briefly mentioned recovering a total of eight deceased victims during his speech Wednesday night. After his speech, he admitted he didn’t tell the full story.
“There was so much more to tell,” Mackintosh said. “But I didn’t want to be too graphic. This is what it meant to me."
Mackintosh described sleeping on cots one night and a bus the other night. He spoke about being given any supplies he and his colleagues needed.
He spoke about walking up 44 flights of stairs through thick smoke in a building he had never been in before. A New York City firefighter turned off a generator that had been left on in the building and was causing all the smoke.
He spoke of the cheers they all received when they finally returned to New Jersey.
“We walked down the ramp (off the ferry) and all the people on their way to Manhattan cheered for us,” Mackintosh said. “And this is the first time I’m speaking about 9/11.”
After his speech, Mackintosh said his own kids came up to him and said they had never even heard the things he was saying.
“I told them a little bit here and there, but I never really talked about it,” Mackintosh said. “ … I lived it. I don’t want to relive it.”
But after 12 years, he finally did, after Galloway Fire Marshal Ron Garbutt asked him to.
“I was holding it inside for so long,” Mackintosh said. “There was so much more to tell.”
Mackintosh was a member of the Teaneck Fire Department for
42 years. He was with the department from August of 1964 until May of 2006.
He and his wife moved to southern New Jersey in 1977, and have lived in Galloway since 1991. His trip to work from Galloway to Teaneck was about 125 miles, one way.
Mackintosh and his seven colleagues all stayed close through
the years. He and one colleague retired. The other six are still active, Mackintosh said.
Mackintosh said the eight of them would still talk about what they experienced from time to time, but Wednesday night was the first time many people learned about Mackintosh’s involvement in the aftermath of that infamous day.
Following that speech, he received a standing ovation from those who were captivated by his speech. Then, he received a line of people thanking him for sharing his experience.
For the first time, Mackintosh didn’t have to be alone in his experience.
“It makes me feel better,” Mackintosh said of sharing his experience.
“There were a lot of people there,” Mackintosh said during his speech. “All the people who were there to help died along with the people they were trying to help. Those are the real heroes.”