SHELBURN, Ind. (WTHI) – Firefighter Tim Shott is still serving the small town of Shelburn, Indiana as he was 20 years ago when terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.
Shott is a captain with the Thunderbird Fire Protection Territory and has responded to fires and other emergency calls for more than three decades; 20 years with Thunderbird. But, following the attacks on the World Trade Center, he was dispatched to an unprecedented emergency to serve, not as a firefighter, but as a resource to first responders as they battled dusty air, seemingly unstoppable fire, hunks of concrete, and the clock.
"We were all firefighters but none of us had ever been a part of something that devastating."
Shott also works as a rescue tools distributor supplying fire departments with lifting devices and cutting machines. He was on his way back to the Wabash Valley from a job in Delaware when he first heard about the attacks on the radio. When he arrived home hours later he was already getting calls for help.
"The main request was how much do we have because not everything is readily able to go out the door,” Shott says, “The big thing was they knew they would be cutting a lot of rebar, maybe doing a lot of heavy lifting. It's really unknown at that point in time."
He packed up anything and everything that could help first responders while also preparing for his own long days.
"Grabbed a lot of camping supplies; tents, sleeping bags, that sort of stuff because we knew we'd be, you know, we wouldn't be staying at the Hilton."
Grateful Americans welcomed him when he arrived in New York City.
"People with signs, you know, God bless, you know, just cheering people coming in and it was a pretty moving part of the trip for sure."
Shott got to Ground Zero the morning after the Twin Towers fell. He took in the grey dust that settled like fog in the daylight and the work started quickly. Shott and two other men; a fellow firefighter and distributor, began making their presence known. Their focus: how to make the biggest impact.
Shott worked around the clock, backpacking life-saving tools to the men and women clearing debris, and rescuing people from the rubble.
"One of the divisions gave us a John Deere Gator because we were literally just backpacking equipment all around Ground Zero where these sites were being set up and teams were being housed for basically logistic sites."
First responders needed to know how to use the equipment Shott was providing so he offered quick training sessions over his first three days on-site. When he wasn’t training he was repairing tools.
"On the rubble pile, it's so sharp, so jagged. Hoses are getting drug through and crushed by moving debris so it was constantly something getting broke, damaged, dropped, smashed handles, trigger valves, that kind of stuff."
The work was grueling and unrelenting.
"Middle of the night, we would get somebody beating on the wall, hollering and needing some equipment fixed so they could continue working at night."
Unfortunately, Shott says the rescue tools and the best efforts of those on the ground were often not enough. He says few stories had happy endings but he takes solace in knowing people were recovered from the rubble and returned to their families.
"Having some closure for all the ones who didn't (survive), yeah, that definitely makes a huge difference."
Shott was at Ground Zero for eleven days before making the trip home.
"You wonder, could you have done more?"
Shott came to Ground Zero with the tools to save people but left with heartache knowing not everyone could be saved.
"You start thinking how many people were affected, how many guys are still there because we saw the guys walking around. They worked for days, some of them for days on end with no rest, no sleep. And, I thought we're going home and those guys are still there."
He still keeps in contact with the people he met and worked with over those eleven days 20 years ago. Shott says he can’t believe it’s been two decades. He says the conversations now are light, mostly catching up.
“We don't talk much about what we saw then."
Shott says the anniversary of the attacks on 9/11 serves as a reminder of what we can be when we care for each other.
"I just hope people remember that it happened and the way we responded to it as a country, as a community, and a nation because I think a lot of people forget about that."