A firefighter's view of NYC
WORTHINGTON -- For Worthington Fire Chief Rick von Holdt and his wife, Dayna, a recent trip to New York City was more than just a way to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. It was also a pilgrimage to Ground Zero of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a way for Rick to honor his fallen firefighting brethren.
"There was always the thought that I wanted to go there, but there are so many other places I have never been to," explained Rick. "But then my wife mentioned it out of the blue, and we decided let's do that."
Initially, another member of the Worthington Fire Department and his wife had planned to go, too, but when they had to back out, the von Holdts decided to continue with their plans. Although their wedding anniversary is in June, the von Holdts purposefully timed their visit to coincide with the Sept. 11 anniversary.
"First and foremost, our goal was to go to Ground Zero," Rick said. "We actually had to go the day before 9/11, on Monday, because they had the memorial closed for family on the actual day."
Since it was their first trip to New York, the von Holdts booked a Freedom Tour, which took them to notable venues around Manhattan, including a water taxi ride out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Battery Park and the Ground Zero memorial.
"We got there, and it was like going through airport security. We had to be checked over going in," Rick said. "It's a pretty serene area, hard to imagine what happened there, with waterfalls and all these black monuments with the names of the people who perished. The museum was closed at the time, due to funding. There is one tree there from the original site that was still standing after the buildings collapsed. They'd taken that tree out, nursed it back to health and replanted it. There were quite a few people there, but you could walk around leisurely, taking some photos, reading the names. You just can't fathom the devastation that was there beforehand."
On the actual 9/11 anniversary date, the von Holdts were able to experience one of Fire Department New York's memorial ceremonies.
"I had Googled to see where the closest fire departments were to where we were at, and there was a department -- Engine 54, Truck 4, Battalion 9 -- about six blocks from where we were staying," Rick said. "So that Monday afternoon we went over there, got to talk to some of the people and bought T-shirts.
"They lost the whole battalion that day," continued Rick about Engine 54's connection to 9/11. "When I was talking to the guys there, they said, 'Tomorrow we have a memorial ceremony. Why don't you stop back?' When we got there the next morning, they were probably about halfway through the memorial ceremony, and family members were bringing in a rose and putting it on a podium there, and the current battalion members were in full dress and they had the flags flying."
The von Holdts felt honored to witness the commemoration of an event that was so devastating to the New York firefighting community, but Rick was even more touched when he was approached by another person standing there.
"I had my Worthington Fire Department T-shirt on, and this guy stops me and said, 'I don't know if anybody tells you enough, but thanks for what you do,'" Rick related. "It was really in the moment, kind of a reality check."
As the von Holdts walked the streets of Manhattan, yet another stranger noted Rick's apparel and stopped them.
"This guy stopped and introduced himself, gave me one of his cards, and we talked for about 20 minutes.
"He's a former firefighter, a peer counselor who works with fire department and military post traumatic stress disorder. It was really interesting to me, because I work with a regional group like that out of Marshall, Southwest Minnesota Critical Incident Stress."
For most of the trip, the von Holdts were typical NYC tourists, but they were often aware of the heightened sense of security in conjunction with the 9/11 anniversary.
"We were in Times Square on Monday night, before 9/11. It's about 10:30 at night, and there are two or three squad cars, a SWAT unit, motorcycle cops and cops on horseback. I guess the level of alertness was lowered from what it was on the 10th year to the 11th year, but they were still on alert, just hanging out."
Worthington's fire chief doesn't have any desire to return to New York any time soon, but he's glad to have made the journey once.
"I think everyone should experience it once," he said, "and firefighters in particular."
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.