The Open Ears Project - Episode Two: On Conquering Fear
CLEMENCY BURTON HILL: This is the Open Ears Project, welcome to day two.
[Music - Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner]
ROB VOGT: Every firefighter feel some fear a little bit, or they wouldn't be human. It's... the fact that you have that fear, and still do your job is what makes them amazing.
We’re listening to Ride of the Valkyries written by Wagner. This is the music I would listen to after digging at ground zero for several months. It was a coping mechanism to get through the sorrowful days.
My name is Robert Vogt I am a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, ladder 80. I was a fireman in engine 290 ladder 103 in Brooklyn, East New York, grew up in Long Island, but the last 25 years I've lived in Staten Island, New York.
My uncle Steve Siller father of five, was only about 7 or 8 years older than me, he encouraged me to be a great New York City fireman, and he worked, September 10th 2001. He actually got relieved early, he was going to go golf with his three brothers. Gets in his car. It's about 8:30, He's on the BQE going home to Staten Island. And he hears about the terrorist attacks on the radio.
[Archival WNYC AM tape first announcing explosion at WTC]
“...there has been an explosion at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, the upper floors of the northern tower, at the World Trade center has experienced an explosion. There is smoke coming from the tower at the northern side of the northern tower…”
He turns around, goes to his Park Slope Firehouse squad one, grabs all the gear he can any tools he can and he drove his pickup truck to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Obviously, the traffic was stopped and no one was moving and he left his truck right in front of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. And he ran through the tunnel with all his gear and his tools….
And knowing him there's no doubt about it, he ran into the buildings try to go as high as he could to help rescue people, and you know, the towers came down and he was never found.
The next day I was assigned for several months this horrible task of digging for all the bodies at Ground Zero in a recovery effort. We called it the Bucket Brigade.
Basically, all our tools were useless, we were basically using 5 gallon buckets to pick up debris and then there was this alignment of fire department fathers, there was a seven or eight of them and they were looking down at us and you felt a terrible feeling that you didn't know if it was better to tell them you found their son's body or the eerie horrible feeling, to tell them we didn't find anything. So no matter what you told them, you were going to tell them horrible information. And we try to do the best we can to recover their son's bodies.
I started drinking very heavily, you know self-medicating which a lot of guys did, and I found, you know working after working a 12-hour shift digging for dead bodies, I found the movie Apocalypse Now relaxing in a weird way… Some reason the darkness of the movie and everything about it, you know. Hit a button with me.
And this scene always got me going.
[Apocalypse Now excerpt]
The music definitely gives you an adrenaline rush you get when we're fighting fires and everything and um, and I really needed to listen to something like this.
Ride of the Valkyries… This was a piece of music that I would listen to after 9/11 as kind of a coping experience.
I mean that... that adrenaline you get from something like this when you get that first call and um, you know, you're going to work and you jumping off the rig, just like those guys jumped off the helicopter, and you're immediately going into action, you know.
I mean this part is amazing.
I don't dwell on the bad days all the time when I hear this song.
[Music - Etude No. 2 by Philip Glass]
CBH: Rob Vogt chose the Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner, and if you want to hear the whole thing, it’s coming up. If now doesn’t feel like quite the right time, then we provide each day’s full track if you go to openearsproject.org – and while you’re there, sign up for our companion daily newsletter where we get to tell you a little more about the piece and our guests – including information about Tunnel To Towers run the Stephen Siller Foundation, named in memory of Rob’s uncle. I’ll see you tomorrow.