What the 20th anniversary of 9/11 means to New England’s first responders

"I wish the country could reunite like we did 20 years ago."

The "Tower of Light," a beam of light that pays tribute to those killed during the September 11, 2001 attacks at the Pentagon, illuminates the sky over the Pentagon as seen in Arlington, Virginia, September 9, 2021, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Michael Dewan lost his uncle, Manhattan firefighter Gerard Dewan, on 9/11. Gary Teixeira found out a friend from Brookline High School, Bronx firefighter Manny DelValle, died that day. Like many, Mike Penta and Robert Edgar vividly recall watching the events unfold on television during typical workdays.

Most people alive when 9/11 happened remember where they were that day, but many first responders, whether or not they were on the job in New York, have deep ties still connecting them to Sept. 11, 2001. To four New England first responders, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is an opportunity to honor, remember, and celebrate the lives lost that day, and come together to reaffirm our commitment to “never forget.”


Dewan, now a dispatcher and EMT for Cataldo Ambulance and the city of Peabody, was working as a field supervisor for another ambulance service on Sept. 11, 2001. After he heard the news, he called his father and asked if his father’s youngest brother, Gerard, was working that day. Dewan said Gerard was born and raised in Boston, and was serving as a firefighter assigned to ladder 3 in the Union Square section of Manhattan. 

“Around 6 p.m., I got a call from my dad who said that Gerard was working and no one could reach him,” Dewan told Boston.com. “Around 9 p.m., while watching the news, they displayed a phone number you could call for information about FDNY members. Long story short, I called and they confirmed that my uncle Gerard was officially listed as ‘missing.’ It was at that moment that I knew in my heart that he was gone.”

Dewan also lost a childhood friend, Christine Barbuto, who was on Flight 11. To him, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is twenty years without his uncle. He said he’ll be in Manhattan at his uncle’s firehouse on Saturday for a mass and celebration of the lives that were lost. 


“As we say in the firehouse, we must never forget those who have gone before us,” he said. “People sacrificed so much that day. There are so many stories of heroism and resilience and they need to continue to be told and remembered. It was such a dark day in our history but it is also a day that continues to have an effect world wide.”

Now a lieutenant with the Somerville Fire Department, Teixeira has worked as a firefighter in Somerville since 1996. He was off duty on 9/11, doing work on his back deck, when he looked inside to see his wife staring at the TV with a look of horror on her face.

In the following days, he got a call that a friend from high school, Manny DelValle, had died in the aftermath of the attacks. The two had grown up in Brookline together, and DelValle, a couple years behind Teixeira, had also become a firefighter, and was working at a station in the Bronx. 

“The sad thing is, in our line of work, it’s very easy to find someone that has some sort of connection to these tragedies,” he said.


This anniversary, but really any anniversary, is a time to remember those that ran towards the danger, Teixeira said. To him, no one could ever measure up to their bravery.

“I’m sure these members were terrified, and who wouldn’t be, but they still did what they were trained and supposed to regardless of the insurmountable odds,” he said. “I’m biased, but 9/11 to me what sacrifice my union brothers gave – they didn’t have to do that, they could have turned around and ran, but they didn’t. That’s what people need to remember.”

Though Edgar now works with Cataldo Ambulance as the business development manager, on Sept. 1, 2001 he was working as the ambulance supervisor at Norwood Hospital. He was riding in the ambulance when he heard the news on the radio. 

“Soon thereafter we received a call from the state asking us to put together an ambulance team to deploy down to NYC,” he told Boston.com. “At the same time, Norwood Hospital was preparing to see large amounts of walking wounded via trains as we were situated next to a train line. Everything quickly changed as the towers started to collapse onto themselves.”

Edgar said he worked with many local firefighters who were affected emotionally for years. The experience also moved him to voluntarily deploy to Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters in the south. To him, the 20th anniversary is an opportunity to come together.


“I wish the country could reunite like we did 20 years ago,” he said. “Many brave firefighters, first responders, police, and other allied professionals lost their lives by going into buildings, and helped and saved [the] lives of many that were looking for a way to get out.”

Penta, an EMT with Cataldo Ambulance, told Boston.com 9/11 is a reminder to respect first responders who, no matter what, are always there when they’re needed. 

“It’s important to never forget because it brought us together as a nation no matter what,” he said. “Civilians went to work that day and never came home to their families. When the towers were coming down in flames and everybody was running for safety, people…went into a building to save people, not asking for anything, but because they had honor and pride in their job.”


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