The woods of New Hampshire feel far from the towers of lower Manhattan, or the maze of suburban Washington, D.C.
But for firefighters — even those in the smallest towns, the first responders who will likely never rush into a skyscraper — the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 compresses the difference of experiences, and the 20 years that have passed.
Deerfield firefighters sounded the whistle atop their white clapboard firehouse Saturday at 8:46 a.m., marking the time of the first plane crash.
Twenty years later, in a town more than 250 miles and a world away from New York City, the sound of the whistle reminded Deerfield Chief Matt Fisher of his firefighter brethren, who rushed in to help after the crash.
“What sticks in my mind is the 343 firefighters trapped in the towers,” Fisher said. “It’s definitely going to be a day of reflection.”
“Between going to brush fires,” added Dianne Kimball, the department’s safety officer — a reminder of the different challenges rural fire departments face each day.
The Deerfield firefighters had just listened to town moderator Dan Holdridge recount his memory of 9/11. Holdridge worked at the Pentagon in 2001, and remembered the blast that burned a man next to him.
“Twenty years later, and I’m telling this story like it happened yesterday,” he said.
In Manchester, dozens of firefighters from departments across southern New Hampshire ran up and down the stairs at Delta Dental Stadium, as a way of honoring the firefighters who went up the stairs of the World Trade Center towers before the buildings collapsed.
“This day is everything. Everything,” said Andover firefighter Zachary Lawrence as he caught his breath between flights.
Dan Connell, a Manchester firefighter climbing the stairs, said he still feels close to 9/11 — and not just by dint of his profession. Connell grew up in New York, he said, and has family who served on the fire department.
“I had cousins who survived because they were late to work that day,” he said.
He thinks about their luck to have lived — and about the first responders who have died of cancers in the years since.
“It’s way more than 343,” Lawrence said.
“They’re dying right now,” Connell said, before fastening his jacket again to keep climbing stairs.