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East County Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2016 4 years ago

Retired firemen talk about painful reminders of 9/11

Fifteen years later, Lakewood Ranch residents still battle the memories.
by: Berkley Mason Staff Writer

For years after the twin towers fell, New York City fireman Garrett Lindgren was doing OK. Or at least, that’s what he thought.

Lindgren, a Rescue 3 first responder, noticed he wasn’t himself anymore. He would go out with friends, but would find himself sitting alone in a corner. His mind would go back to 9/11, and he would experience the smell of death all over. He was not OK.

He retired at 42, and he couldn't talk about the memories that haunted him every day.

On Sept. 11, though, Lakewood Ranch's Lindgren will talk about 9/11, and in front of a crowd at the Fallen Heroes Memorial Ceremony being held at Patriots Park, 800 Venetia Bay Blvd., Venice. The ceremony, which is open to the public, begins at 10 a.m. and commemorates the 15th remembrance of the attacks.

“In some ways, I remember 9/11 better now, over the years, because I get to speak with some of the guys that were with me on that day," Lindgren said. "The guys were there with me in the many weeks and months that followed that day. One of the guys will mention something and a light bulb will go off. It will be something I didn’t remember or, more likely, something that my mind blocked out.”

The day, of course, was pivotal, sparking a war, breaking apart families, leaving millions in a state of grief.

Lindgren might be thought of as a survivor of 9/11, but he still fights the memories and the physical complications that have ensued. During the 11-straight days he worked in the aftermath of 9/11 without going home, he has seen repercussions he never would have imagined.

Richy Evers

He was jogger, running several times a week before 9/11, and in the aftermath he couldn't run at all due to respiratory problems that have developed since the attack. He now has a low-functioning immune system, so he tends to get sick more often than the average person. A bout of bronchitis will quickly escalate to pneumonia, and even a small virus will leave him hospitalized.

His family members have suffered along with him.

“My father is young, he’s 57 years old,” said Garrett Lindgren's daughter, Kristin Lindgren. “I never thought I’d have to be worried about losing my dad at 57 years old. It’s a scary thought to me, and it’s not just him."

Kristin Lindgren said her father is more worried about his friends, who are going through similar traumas. "He's lost so many people,” she said.

One friend he hasn't lost is Richy Evers, a retired firefighter from Rescue 2 in Brooklyn who like Lindgren, now lives in Lakewood Ranch.

When 9/11 shocked the world, Evers was recovering from neck surgery. He wasn’t supposed to be lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds but his health didn’t stop him from grabbing his gear and heading to the firehouse in New York City when he saw what was happening on his TV at home.

The helmet that Garrett Lindgren wore on 9/11.
The helmet that Garrett Lindgren wore on 9/11.

“All 30 or so of us (firefighters who were either retired or not scheduled that day) jumped in a city bus, and the woman who was driving the bus kicked everyone off, let all of the firefighters get on board, and drove us straight to the world trade center,” Evers said. “Once we got there and left from the bus, it was just a cloud of whiteness that we saw.”

After a day of searching through debris at the recovery site, Evers could barely lift his neck anymore, so he had no choice but to go back to the firehouse where he stayed for a week. He would cook and take care of the firemen who had been on the scene searching for bodies all day.

Evers would call the wives of those who were missing, updating them about whether or not they had found anyone on the “missing list.”

“I would experience this every day,” Evers said.  “It’d kill me that I couldn’t do anything.”

Evers and his wife, Denise Evers, spent much of their time in the aftermath attending funerals.

“They all did their job, and I’m proud of all of them,” Evers said of the fallen firefighters. “They did what people had expected of them.”

Those who survived have been gripped by the unexpected, a myriad of diseases from working the site. The 9/11 toll continues to increase.

Despite their maladies, fightfighters like Lindgren are talking to the public about the attacks, hoping 9/11 isn't forgotten as time passes.

Sarasota's Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter and co-founder of the Tribute Center in NYC, lost his son Jonathan Ielpi, FDNY Squad 288, during the attacks. He applauds the efforts of first responders like Lindgren to be able to talk about the attacks.

“When I go to speak at schools around the country and I ask about that day, and the students don’t even know 9/11 happened, it’s troubling," Ielpi said. "Three thousand people died that day. We’re not going to make tomorrow better unless we remember, understand, and enlighten."

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