“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first year or the 10th year since 9/11,” Anson County EMS director Ryan Teal said, “I’m sure that most folks in EMS know where they were when those planes hit.”
“We lost 343 brothers and sisters that day,” he added. “In emergency services, we consider ourselves one big family. When we hear of someone dying on the job, it makes you think, ‘that could be me.’ When we say goodbye to our families in the morning, we’ll see them in 12-24 hours. Those folks never saw their families again.”
When Teal learned of the attacks 10 years ago, he clearly remembers that he was in class at Western Carolina University and someone came in and told the professor that the World Trade Center had been attacked. “We all went to the teachers lounge, where there was a TV,” he said. “You could’ve heard a pin drop in that room.”
Interestingly enough, Teal said that wasn’t the day he decided he wanted to go into EMS. “It took me going to N.C. State to study poultry to realize I wanted to be in EMS,” he said. “But it certainly intrigued me to learn about terrorism response and homeland security.”
After 9/11, Teal said there was “an explosion in degrees available in homeland security” — an area of study that wasn’t even around 10 years ago.
Of course, that wasn’t the only thing in the EMS field to change after the terrorist attacks. “We keep a high level of suspicion when we respond to calls now,” Teal said. “In the past, you just automatically assumed that things were safe and we’re here to help.”
Although Anson County isn’t a likely terrorist target, Teal points out that Charlotte is a large banking center and could be a potential target, which would likely affect emergency resources in Anson. The Queen City is also hosting the Democratic National Convention next year, and security will be incredibly tight. Anson County will be sending officers to help with the Democratic National Convention, Sheriff Tommy Allen said.
“Terrorism is not gonna stop,” Teal said. “It’s a silent epidemic.”
The sheriff also pointed out that Anson County is within 100 miles of three nuclear plants, which could also be potential targets for terrorists. “We’d probably be part of an evacuation route if that were to happen,” he said.
“I think the biggest thing to come out of 9/11 is that we pay more attention to what’s going on,” Sheriff Allen said. “If you see something, you pass it on, no matter how unimportant it may seem. We would rather get hundreds of bits of information that may seem useless than to miss that one important one that could help avert a disaster.”
Greater vigilance is just one benefit gained from 9/11. Local first responders are also able to get more funding than ever before.
“Almost all of the $1 million [in grants] or so we’ve received over the past few years has gone to improve communications,” Sheriff Allen said.
The Sheriff’s Office is currently operating on two systems — one that’s more than 30 years old and another, newer system that is a higher frequency and cannot be picked up by scanners.
“This allows us to do what people thought we could do all along and we couldn’t,” Allen said. “I can use my radio to talk to a state trooper sitting across the street, or we can talk to them anywhere in the state. Nowhere is out of range with this new system.”
Federal grants have also benefited local fire departments, like the Wadesboro Fire Department. Fire Chief Jimmy Burns said his department has been able to purchase new turnout gear, new air packs and other needed items, thanks to FEMA grants that were made available after 9/11.
Also, he’s noticed an increase in community respect for local firefighters. “This week, several churches in town are having us over and honoring us,” he said. “I think it’s made people more aware of what we do.”
Although he wasn’t chief then, Burns was a part of the fire department and remembers the dispatcher calling him and the then-chief in to watch what was happening on Sept. 11, 2001 on the news. “To start with, we didn’t realize a plane had hit the building; we just thought it was a fire,” he said. “We were wondering how in the world they were gonna put that fire out, way up in that building.”
Then, of course, the second plane hit the other tower and they realized it was a terrorist attack. “When the plane hit the Pentagon, I really started worrying,” Burns said. “I started calling my kids to make sure they were OK.”
He remembers that his middle son, Stan, who was in the Navy at that time, told him, “Our kids will grow up in a different time.” He said he realized then that American society was never going to be the same.
Allen was not sheriff in 2001, having previously served from 1978-1994. He was working for an architecture firm that designed courthouses and jails, and remembers that he was working from home on Sept. 11, 2001.
At around 9 a.m., he got a phone call telling him he should turn on the TV. “I didn’t cut my TV off for the next two to three days,” he said.
“I can almost see how people felt in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked,” he added. “It would probably be for us Americans in the last 10 years how Americans felt in 1941. You know, thinking, ‘We’ve got to do something.’ But it wasn’t like there was a country like Japan we could attack.”
From that moment on, Allen said, he decided he wanted to be back in public service. In 2002, he ran for sheriff again, and has been in office ever since.
As the 10th anniversary nears, there’s no doubt that Teal, Allen and Burns will all be thinking of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s hard to think about those 343 firefighters and other emergency personnel,” Burns said. “They were doing what we do every day and now they’re gone.”