Retired New York City Firefighter Shares His 9/11 Story: ‘Everybody Played a Role That Day’

Retired FDNY firefighter and lung cancer survivor Jerry Sanford spoke about how he helped the rescue efforts following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, retired FDNY firefighter Gerald "Jerry" Sanford shared the story of his experiences helping his fellow firefighters and mourning the losses with CURE®.

Sanford, who was later diagnosed with lung cancer which may be a result of his exposure to the air in New York City after the tragedy, spoke about the difficulty of the following weeks, months and years, and what it means to him 20 years later.

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this can't be New York City, this can't be where I served for 30 years,’” Sanford said. “And it was just a horrible experience seeing that, but you know what, you have to do it, you got to pull up your pants, you got to get out there. And you have to do it. And because you know what, they would have done it for me. And that's why I was there.”

Transcription:

I knew about half of the men that were killed that day. I worked there for 30 years, I knew them, or I worked with them. And it was very difficult going to their wakes and funerals because, you know, it's a hard thing to put into words, because – and then the families, meeting the wives that I knew. I mean, it wasn't just, you know, I had worked with them in my old companies, and Christmas parties, picnics. I mean, so it was very – we had that closeness, we’re called the fire family. No matter where you go, you're part of the fire family, and that was very, very difficult. But on the weekends, I just want to inject this. I just had to get away. So my daughter was living up in Riverdale in Upper Manhattan at the time. So I would just leave Friday night, and I would ride up and I would do stuff with my granddaughters, the Bronx Zoo or Coney Island, the aquarium. I had to just get away from the carnage and everything that was going on downtown at the site. And that kind of made me keep it all together, if you would, but it was very difficult going. So, none of them stand out. Except they all stand out. You know, I guess that's what I'm trying to say, it was a time none of us ever experienced. I got back there on Monday, that was six days after the attacks. And I'm standing 40 to 50 feet in the air on West Street, looking down at firemen and rescuers that look like the size of ants. And I thought it was a movie set. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this can't be New York City, this can't be where I served for 30 years.’ And it was just a horrible experience seeing that, but you know what, you have to do it, you got to pull up your pants, you got to get out there. And you have to do it. And because you know what, they would have done it for me. And that's why I was there. Because the brothers, we don't leave anybody behind, and we get in there and as the thousands of people are exiting the World Trade Towers, we’re going in. So I'm very proud of the role, my small role. Everybody played a role that day. Everybody has a story. But I'm very proud that I was able to come back to New York and help.

Photos used within this video are courtesy of Jerry Sanford.

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