RIDGEFIELD, N.J. — The whirring engine of a fire truck was all Ridgefield volunteer firefighter Michael Kees heard while crossing the George Washington Bridge midday on 9/11.
He peered out the window trying to make sense of what he saw in a truck full of eight speechless firefighters, frozen in time as the Twin Towers crumbled and smoked.
Little did Kees know, it was the first of many moments of silence to come.
“When you’re a firefighter, you’re bred into it,” said Kees, who is in his 32nd year with Ridgefield's volunteer department. “You learn to accept it and know it.
“What we saw that day was a war zone.”
Kees was working at the Department of Public Works when another firefighter alerted him that a plane hit one of the towers.
He turned on the New York City frequency back at the Ridgefield firehouse and listened as the one-alarm fire climbed to a five, minutes before doubling at the strike of the second plane.
The department and several others discovered they were headed into New York City while waiting to cross the bridge in Fort Lee.
“How everybody came together and responded to such a crisis is what I remember. Not what [the terrorists] did,” said Kees, who climbed 19 flights in a nearby apartment building to rescue an elderly woman.
The good news was that she’d already made it down safely. The bad: a massive pile of wreckage down below that Kees spent three days transferring into pails.
“The buckets would come back empty and we’d fill ‘em again,” Kees said. “It’s something you never ever want to do or see but we were obligated - it was our job and they needed us.”
Ridgefield's department put in three 12-hour shifts — each about seven hours apart. Dozens of funerals later — one for borough resident Michael A. Asciak — reality set in.
"There was a point where I just had to stop going," Kees said. "I had to move on."
Kees still takes moments of silence to recollect. He did today at 8 a.m.