Rapid City never forgets 9/11

 A Rapid City firefighter's uniform is left beside a fire engine at the main headquarters. (KOTA TV)
A Rapid City firefighter's uniform is left beside a fire engine at the main headquarters. (KOTA TV) (KOTA)
Published: Sep. 11, 2019 at 9:19 PM MDT
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Eighteen years ago, the nation was glued to the TV, watching the World Trade Center in New York City crumble after terrorist attacks.

When the twin towers came down, Rapid City reacted like the rest of the nation. Businesses closed their doors immediately as the concern for safety rose.

Law enforcement barricaded buildings like the courthouse on 9th street.

"One memory that really sticks out to me is, before I went to work that night, the lines at the gas stations because we weren't sure are we going to war. You never know what's going to happen next," said Lt. Jim Bussell with the Rapid City Fire Department.

Bussell was a volunteer firefighter at the time, who just completed a shift in the emergency department at Rapid City Regional Hospital. At home, his wife woke him up from his sleep and pointed to the TV.

The eerie feeling from the day transcended throughout the nation, especially, when the lights went out at Rapid City Regional Airport and in Box Elder at Ellsworth Air Force Base.

The base locked down with a B-1 Bomber idled on the flight line.

Meanwhile, dozens of people cried and prayed at Memorial Park.

At the fire department, 12 firefighters were supposed to go to New York to help. Though the deployment was canceled, Rapid City Fire Department Captain Michael Bartling said he was ready to serve.

"They were thinking we're going to send firemen from all over the country to go help. So right away, I put myself on a list to hey if we can go help, I'll go," said Bartling.

Bartling and his wife were at Denver International Airport, excited to go on their honeymoon. But, the day quickly turned somber as planes quickly tried to land, canceled repeatedly flashed on the screen and travelers stood with mouths agape.

Bartling described the airport's environment as "very quiet, you could hear a pin drop."

While many stared at the TV screens, Bartling recognized a sound.

"Right after the first tower fell, there was a gentleman who said 'I can hear all those car alarms going off' and me being in the fire service, I knew that sound. I knew it wasn't car alarms. It was actually the PASS devices on their SCBA's that tells you a fireman hasn't moved for one minute," said Bartling.

343 New York firefighters died that day and their memory lives on in six of the Rapid City fire engines.

Throughout the headquarters fire station, honorary pictures line the walls. In Bussell's office, a display of all the New York Fire Department patches hangs.

Bussell said victims of September 11 should be remembered every day of the year, not just one.

"Our world changed right before our eyes and it's been challenging to explain it to my youngest son, but I feel he has a pretty good grasp on it the more we talk about it," said Bussell.

A concept Bartling admires.

"I think it's really easy once a day to put something on Facebook or put something on Instagram. However, I don't know if we've done a good job in telling the story of what happened that day and how different everything was before that day," said Bartling. "We promised that day that we would never forget what happened."

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