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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Police, firefighters driven to protect after Sept. 11 attacks

<p>Firefighters from B shift at Station 1,427 S Main St., pose with "Quint," their backup aerial fire truck. Firefighters said they have the utmost respect for law enforcement officers who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.</p>

Firefighters from B shift at Station 1,427 S Main St., pose with "Quint," their backup aerial fire truck. Firefighters said they have the utmost respect for law enforcement officers who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

One was training a new patrol officer at the corner of 13th Street and University Avenue. Another was on her breakfast break. A third was in his first-period English class, watching his teacher scold another student for texting.

The text message told the student to turn on the TV.

Sgt. Greg Armagost and Sgt. Dana Strama of the Gainesville Police Department and firefighter-paramedic Andrew Marsh of the Gainesville Fire Rescue Department were all watching the television as reports of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, began to come in.

Armagost and Strama were both on duty when the first, incorrect reports of the Pentagon being bombed went out on police radio. They returned to the police station, where other officers were already gathering to watch coverage of the World Trade Center burning.

They were all watching when the second airplane hit the building.

It was unbelievable, Strama said.

"You want to sit down in front of the TV and watch it like everyone else was, but you have work to do," she said.

GPD officers buried their emotions and went immediately into action to secure potential targets - water towers, City Hall and Gainesville Regional Utilities.

It wasn't until they got home late that night, emotionally drained and physically exhausted, that officers began to think about the magnitude of what was lost that day.

"At that point, we realized how many police officers and firefighters had lost their lives," Armagost said."[It was] sad, more than anything," he said. "I wouldn't say angry or upset, just sad."

Strama and Armagost said their patriotism was strengthened and their world views were changed after the terrorist attacks, having seen there are people who take pleasure in hurting Americans.

The Sept. 11 attacks also strengthened their resolve to keep Gainesville safe and sharpened their senses toward suspicious activity.

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Ten years later, Armagost said, they are still vigilant about protecting their residents and resources.

Andrew Marsh was 15 years old and a student at Buchholz High School in 2001. He briefly considered joining the military after the terrorist attacks.

"I was mad," he said.

But he thought he would be better suited to firefighting, the career he wanted to pursue since he was 3 years old.

Marsh said he has already come to terms with the idea that another attack could happen at any time.

He doesn't think any one of the firefighters who died on Sept. 11 would have any regrets about his or her work.

"You risk a lot to save a lot," he said. "We're in the business of saving lives."

Marsh said he has all the respect he can give for those firefighters and police officers for making the ultimate sacrifice to save others in the face of evil.

"That's the greatest sacrifice you could give to someone else, is your life for theirs," he said. "That's courage in every sense of the word."

Firefighters from B shift at Station 1,427 S Main St., pose with "Quint," their backup aerial fire truck. Firefighters said they have the utmost respect for law enforcement officers who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

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