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After Sept. 11, Responders' Roles Change

Sep 11, 2013

By MICHAEL HALL The Brunswick News, 9/11/2013

Tuesday morning could have been a time of waiting for something to happen for Glynn County Fire Capt. Hugh Brown. Or, maybe, a chance to take care of some routine station house duties.

Instead, Brown and his colleagues decided to do some running - up and down five flights of stairs at the fire training tower, 22 times in a row, wearing full fire fighting gear.

For them, it was both a tribute to and a reminder of what New York City firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001 experienced after the terrorist attacks that forever altered the course of American history.

"And they were doing it with extra gear on while carrying other items while only going up," Brown said as he stood next to a glass case housing a twisted piece of metal from one of the World Trade Center towers, in the lobby of the Glynn County Fire Department headquarters.

Although Tuesday's exercise was not a recreation of events, Brown said it showed how difficult the situation was.

Running the stairs also made him think of how different the world, specifically the job of a firefighter, has been since the attacks. "I think a lot of things (about the job) have changed," Brown said.

Both the outlook of firefighters, paramedics and police officers and how they are perceived have changed greatly in 12 years, Brown said.

Glynn County Fire Chief Al Thomas said the world got a clear view of how dangerous a firefighter's job can be through the New York City attacks that claimed the lives of 343 firefighters and paramedics. The Sept. 11 attacks, including one on the Pentagon and airplane passengers who thwarted a plan to fly a fourth plane into the Capitol, killed 2,753 people in all.

"I think it was a wake-up call for everybody across the country," Thomas said.

Since the attacks, Thomas says police departments, fire departments and emergency management agencies have worked together more closely, devising plans and preparing as much as possible for a potential catastrophe.

Part of that planning has included having public safety agencies adopt uniform communications equipment so they can launch a coordinated response.

"It changed the way we do business, as a whole," said Glynn County Police Capt. Jay Wiggins, who is emergency management agency director for the county. "It can happen anywhere, anytime."

But the response to 9/11 was a different emergency situation than for a hurricane. It was a terrorist attack, meaning police officers jobs changed, as well.

"It is something we do take very seriously," Wiggins said. "Law enforcement changed more in one day than it did in 20 years."

Today, officers regularly train to be ready for anything, including in Glynn County, where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security operates the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Wiggins said.

Officers are taught to be mindful of anything that may indicate terrorist activity and to report it. "You can't be too careful. If you see something, say something," Wiggins said.

That is why Brunswick Police Chief Tobe Green says his officers regularly train with county police and city and county fire departments.

This past week, Green says his officers trained in an active shooter drill with the Brunswick Fire Department.

"We're always on a heightened level of awareness," Green said. "Since 9/11, it's sharpened our perspective about not just what did happen, but what can happen."

For that reason, Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering says working with all agencies aims not only to respond to an emergency, but also to prevent something terrible from happening.

* Reporter Michael Hall writes about public safety, environment and other local topics. Contact him at mhall@thebrunswick, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 320.

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