SARASOTA, Fla. — Twenty years ago, the country had no idea what horror the next day would bring on Sept. 10, 2001.
Jennifer Titus sat down with two first responders who, despite being hundreds of miles away from one another, shared the same emotions, as they got a firsthand look at the terror attacks of Sept. 11.
"My name is John Schwan. I am a firefighter paramedic."
Jennifer Titus: "So tell me about Sept. 10, 2001."
Schwan: "Well, actually, I can start like, a day before that, that's when the C-130 arrived. They brought in the presidential limousine, they brought in their vehicles, the SUVs."
Sept. 10th, 2001 was an exciting day for Sarasota. In 24 hours, the President of the United States would be visiting a local school.
The limousine that would drive President George W. Bush to the school was positioned at the firehouse Schwan worked at.
An interesting fact about the firefighter is that he's Jennifer Titus' father. She too, was there that day of the president's arrival and had a first-hand look at how the day unfolded.
"This was a first for us. I mean, it's not like this happens every day. You know, this is like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. So, so yeah, everybody was pretty excited," Schwan explained.
Just a few hours later though, those emotions would quickly change when the president received word there had been an incident in New York City.
Schwan: "We all were in the station there."
"The next thing that happened was, the TV breaks in with the news about the plane hitting the first tower there," he explained.
While Schwan was experiencing the attack in Florida, miles away, another firefighter was experiencing it, too.
"I was a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department:" Garrett Lindgren is a retired New York City firefighter.
Titus: "What do you remember about Sept. 10?"
Garrett: "Well, I was actually on an extra shift Sept. 10."
It was just another day for Garrett.
Garrett: "I worked Sept. 10 in the squad company in Queens."
But it was a day, even 20 years later, he remembers every single detail about.
Garrett: "So, I did 24 hours up to the next morning, which, technically our shift would end at 9 a.m. I got onto the Triborough Bridge, which connects Queens and the Bronx and Manhattan. And shortly after I get on the bridge, I was listening to a talk show on the radio and they broke in and said there was a fire at the World Trade Center.
"And all of a sudden, it struck me the World Trade Center is just to my left while I'm on the bridge. And I casually glanced over and saw like eight floors of fire and a massive hole in the side of the North Tower. Already my mind was telling me you got to get to the firehouse you're going to be needed even though you're off duty. And before I got off the bridge, the second plane had hit. And I just raced to my firehouse.
"And we were driving on the sidewalk trying to get around the traffic jam finally got on the East River drive heading toward the Trade Center. I guess we got within a mile or so and we saw literally a sea of humanity running toward us on the highway. It was every time I've talked about this, I just liken it to to like a Godzilla movie, when you see mass mass numbers of people running with horror on their face. And I can still picture it, you know, it's 20 years now I can still picture that. The second tower was still standing; the North Tower was still standing," Garrett said.
It took 11 days for Garrett to finally make it back home to his wife and children.
Garrett: "I'm blessed to still be here. It's a miracle that I'm still here. It just wasn't supposed to happen to me that day, I guess."
Days before the 20-year anniversary of that September day, Schwan and Garrett met at a memorial in Bradenton honoring those who lost their lives, sharing a firefighter's bond and a recollection of a day neither will ever forget.
Garrett: "It's part of the history of this country. And it's also about awareness. People need to know about sacrifice of so many people, they need to know that so many innocent people who went to work in those buildings that morning, never came home again."