Rapid City Fire Chief on 9/11, “It is what they do. It is what we do. They all climbed those towers and were trying to rescue people.”

Firefighters in action
Firefighters in action(MARK LENNIHAN | AP)
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 10:38 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - “September 11th, yep. I remember the day vividly,” says Rapid City Fire Chief Jason Culberson. “For me it seems like yesterday, and it comes back every year about this time that you start thinking about it.”

The Chief says his wife had just taken their 6-year-old son to kindergarten when he got a call from his Dad just after the first tower was hit. He says he just sat on the couch and watched and was, “Just mesmerized by what was happening, and the loss of life.”

Lives of police, citizens and 343 firefighters.

“They all went into that building not because they were looking to become heroes. It was because they were trying to serve their community and help who they could and rescue who they could,” says Culberson.

He was eight years into his career at the time at the time and driving private ambulances. After the attack, he says, “It hit home for me that, that’s what I wanted to do. I realized that, ‘yeah, I did want to transition over and become a firefighter.’”

He says that he’s currently training the first class of firefighters that was born 2001, the year of the attack. Since they were born they year it happened he says, “So, they don’t have any conscious memory of it, and that’s why we talk about ‘never forget.’”

He says the fire service can’t forget because it shook their very foundation in what he says, “What we do, how we train, how we provide the service.

No emergency was off the table anymore according to Culberson, “We needed to be prepared for anything.”

Including a terrorist attack.

Culberson recollects, “It was difficult. It was a difficult day.”

Difficult not just for him, because he says there’s a relationship shared between all firefighters, “You’ll often hear it called a brotherhood and a family.”

A close connection is born by sharing a similar drive, no matter where you do it. Or, in Culberson’s words, “We have this inherent want to serve our community and serve the public, and that you’re willing to step in and risk your life for others.”

He says this bond makes the events of September 11, 2001 especially difficult. He says that each firefighter is impacted differently. Some more personally than others, because, “They had friends or family involved. Really, the fire service is a tight knit family, and there’s not many degrees of separation between one another.”

The chief was asked what he would say if he could go back and speak with the first responders on scene that day. He said he wasn’t sure if he could answer that, and thought on it, “What would you say to them? God Speed, good luck. I hope you make it out alive.”

He says that he doesn’t think anything he’d say would ever change what they did.

“It is what they do. It is what we do. They all climbed those towers and were trying to rescue people,” says Culberson.

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