Waxahachie firefighter John Rodgers recently visited ground zero in New York City – and says he left there with a sense of hope.

Rodgers, a battalion chief with the Waxahachie Fire Department, made the trip to honor the sacrifices made by so many on Sept. 11.

His trip began with helping his nephew, Hayden, drive his truck from Texas, to Waterbury, Conn., where he attends Post University. After getting his nephew settled in, Rodgers took a two-hour train ride to Grand Central Station in New York City.

“As I was waiting for the train, I got to talking with people to make sure that this train was going to New York City. I told them my only mission was to get to ground zero and asked what was the best way to do it. They were like ‘you must be a firefighter.’ I told them I was a firefighter from Texas,” Rodgers said. 

“They said their office is right by ground zero and got to telling me about their experience,” he said. “Their most vivid memory was seeing the people jumping out of the towers. They thought it was paper falling at first but then they got to looking closer – they determined those were people jumping out of the windows.”

On arrival in the city, Rodgers then took the subway to Wall Street and then walked half a block to Liberty Street, where ground zero is located and an area he described as “moving forward in a positive direction.” At the site of the former World Trade Center, near the memorial, is one of the first buildings under construction, he said, saying the building, which will eventually stand 82 stories tall, is referred to by many as the Freedom Tower.

“My impression was that everything is back to normal. There is still that feeling in the air about everything that happened because we are getting close to the 10th anniversary. There is a lot of makeshift memorials all around the construction site where people had brought flowers or pictures.  Obviously, a lot of construction is going on and iron workers are all over the place rebuilding,” he said.

“I got to talking to one of the police officers there and he was telling me about the construction. He said that they are going one floor per week, so they are making a lot of progress. As the first tower gets filled up with tenants, they are going to start the second tower.”

Rodgers also visited with firefighters at the firehouse on Liberty Street that is known as the “Ten House” because it houses members of engine and ladder company 10 of the New York City Fire Department. The station lost six firefighters and was greatly damaged by debris during the terrorist attacks.

“The fire house was right across from the World Trade Center site. I got to talk with some of the guys on the ladder company,” he said. “On the side of their firehouse they have that 50-foot long bronze memorial dedicated to all the 343 firefighters that were lost.”

The memorial wall depicts firefighters and the many pieces of equipment used during the rescue and recovery efforts at ground zero. It also lists a roster of all active duty firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty Sept. 11. There also is a separate memorial dedicated to the six firefighters who were lost from the Ten House.

Like his fellow firefighters in New York, Rodgers recalls where he was 9/11.

“I was on duty that day and it seemed like time had stopped. Our entire focus that day was watching all of that unfold here at the fire station. Obviously, we were still answering calls, but the guys were glued to the television. It really has impacted us in the whole way we do business,” he said. “It is a good shift if everybody goes home safe. A lot of those guys didn’t. They had no idea that something like that would happen. The best way to honor them is not to forget what happened on that day.”

The continuing rebuilding effort in New York is a testament of progress moving forward, Rodgers said, saying the best way to remember Sept. 11 is to honor the emergency responders and others who died and keep their memory alive.

Contact Andrew at andrew.branca@wninews.com or 469-517-1451.