A 9-11 First-Responder’s Perspective by Michael Muhl '87
(First published in the Fall 2011 issue of Vision)
My wife and I sat in our living room and watched as the events of 9-11 unfolded before us on the television. I had just taken our older children to school, and Kelly and I had settled in to enjoy time with our ten-day-old son, John Michael.
As I saw the smoke billowing from the towers, I feared for the safety of the first responders, many of whom were close personal friends. As the South tower fell to earth, I knew that our rescue team would be sent, and I began retrieving my gear from the garage. This was an attack, and it was personal. My Task Force was deploying to search for, and rescue survivors, and I had to be there with them. I looked at Kelly holding our newborn and knew the sacrifices we were both about to make.
I went as the Task Force Leader of FEMA Ohio Task Force One. Our team deployed from WPAFB at 5:30 p.m., and arrived in lower Manhattan at 6 a.m. the next day. We were to work with other FEMA US&R Task Forces and members from the FDNY, NYPD, and PAPD to search for, and rescue survivors. This is what we had spent years training for, and I was absolutely confident that we would succeed.
By the second day, we knew that we were not going to find anyone alive. For 11 days, our team discovered and collected evidence that peoples’ lives had ended abruptly and horrifically that September morning. It was the kind of work that we could have never imagined.
I returned home empty and devoid of any feeling of accomplishment. It wasn’t until about a year later, near the anniversary of the collapse, when I began watching interviews with widows and widowers that I began to see things in a different way. One after another, relatives of victims would relay how grateful they were to have closure about their loved ones — a direct result of our efforts at Ground Zero. Though we did not accomplish what we had set out to do, in the fashion we had set out to do it, we did the work that others had needed us to do. We had made a difference.
I believe that many of us go into life with a set of expectations. When we dedicate ourselves to accomplishing them and then don’t, it can be demoralizing and frustrating. Then moments of grace come, causing us to step out of personal assessment and into an understanding of how our actions produce positive outcomes for others, even if we cannot perceive them.
I believe that the 10th anniversary of 9-11 has brought us to a time when events tied to that tragic day have transitioned from being a current event to a pivotal chapter in American history. It is not as fresh in everyone’s mind unless you were directly affected.
When I think back to that time, I remember how survivors, rescuers, and ordinary citizens alike acted out of the same patriotic and human desire: “I am here for you, how can I help?” The concept of service and the desire to be compassionate and tolerant towards one another must remain—and is something that I have personally seen reflected through the students, faculty, and alumni of Chaminade Julienne time and time again. It should not take a tragedy for us to look beyond the issues that divide us, and to live in a way that serves others, so that we can make a difference, even if it’s not in the way we had originally planned.
About the Author
Michael is currently a Lieutenant / Paramedic for the City of Huber Heights Fire Division, and a Rescue Team Manager for DHS/FEMA Ohio Task Force One. He has served as a member of Ohio Task Force One since its inception in 1994, and also works for Spec Rescue International where he travels nationally and internationally to educate and train the military, and other emergency response agencies, in technical rescue. He and his wife, Kelly, and their three children, Nicholas ‘11, Courteney ‘13 and John Michael ‘20 are members of Holy Angels Parish in Dayton.
Michael serves as Keynote Speaker at "Huber Heights Remembers 9/11" at Wayne High School. The Sept. 11, 2016 program that includes a documentary viewing, 21 gun salute and balloon launch begins at 3 p.m.