James Hanlon: I"ve tried to live my life since 9/11 in a positive and also forward-looking way

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Editor’s Note: James Hanlon is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker and a retired firefighter indigenous the new York Fire Department. He is a TV director in Los Angeles and also the executive, management producer-director of “9/11: Fifteen year Later,” i m sorry premieres in ~ 8 p.m. ET Sunday ~ above priziv.org. You have the right to follow him

I never ever planned on becoming a fireman. As a young new York actor, my brothers had encouraged me to take it the test so the I had actually something to fall back on if the acting point didn’t occupational out. I can never have imagined how, year later, what would turn out to it is in my two large passions would finish up intersecting. That day. The day the people changed.

It to be the so late 1980s when I take it the test. However nothing prepares you for the Fire room of new York. It’s a job like no other. Hell, ns barely made it through Probie college – I simply wasn’t offered to the discipline and also military-like protocols. But somehow i made it, and about six weeks later I was assigned to Engine 7 and Ladder 1 top top Duane Street in lower Manhattan.

ns remember a task right at the beginning, in Chinatown. Together we approached the door through the heat I started to placed on my mask. “You’re fifty percent a male if you placed on that mask, kid.” ns didn’t placed it on. I was scared to fatality to it is in honest, and when it to be over i was just excited come be alive – also as i was sick and also dry-heaving all the way back to the firehouse.


In my an initial seven years, we shed 27 firefighters in fatal fires. They were damaging losses. But I constantly felt it to be a privilege to it is in a FDNY fireman, functioning for years among those who were giants and heroes.

Indeed, it was because of every my experience – great and poor – the I decided to do a documentary, to show what it’s prefer to it is in a new York City fireman. So, ago in might 2001, I began filming a documentary about a probie FDNY firefighter, Tony Benetatos. We had three cameras, and set out to monitor the nine-month probationary duration and to give viewers a sense of what the takes to it is in a new York firefighter.

raw footage supplies rare look in ~ 9/11 assaults

It actually took me a year and half to acquire permission come shoot the film. And even once I had actually it, after ~ calling in every favor i could, Tony to be assigned to Ladder 28 in Harlem. However that would never ever work – i wouldn’t have actually time to film him and then make it downtown because that my very own shifts. So I referred to as Chief Larry Byrnes of mine firehouse and also asked if Tony can be reassigned to my firehouse, 12 blocks phibìc of the pair towers.

If i hadn’t to be able to move Tony’s assignment, climate what turned into the 9/11 documentary never might have happened.

It was hell in the beginning. Because that a start, the guys were really pissed that ns was pointing a lens right into a personal world. Yet the biggest problem was that Tony to be what the FDNY call a “white cloud,” a firefighter who is there ready to work yet doesn’t get called out. For this reason we would certainly film him for a 15-hour tour, but there would be no action. And virtually inevitably, as quickly as he would put his equipment away and I’d start my shift, we’d catch a job. After ~ weeks with Tony, we hadn’t managed to get any footage. Choose one partner said, what we really had were the makings that a firehouse food preparation show.

however then, there to be 9/11.

Roses put by the mother of one architect who passed away during the Sept. 11 terrorists assaults are set up off his surname on the edge of the south Pool in ~ the human being Trade center on September 25, 2015 in brand-new York City.

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A couple of nights before, we had actually gone up through Tony come the firehouse parapet to talk with him and shot to get a good shot. It was the last time we filmed the towers before that morning.

So plenty of memories to fill my mind around that day. Being the just ones with accessibility down in ~ the site after the towers fell. Having guys phone call their stories on the third floor that the firehouse as we satellite them in between two stacks that mattresses. John O’Neill’s 34-second pause prior to he ultimately says the words, “It’s not easy being a survivor,” still sends chills under my spine. He would say those exact same words to me just a few years later, together he lay dying of multiple 9/11-related cancers. May he remainder in peace.

I might go on and also on, but many the those memory I store to myself. Lock are burned into my mind.

A human being can try to define what it’s choose to hit a fire, conserve someone’s life or evil a awful tragedy. And also while those native can’t assist someone to endure what it’s yes, really like, ns am quiet happy I had the ability to tell the story that the bravest guys I ever had the opportunity to work-related with. It’s endure I’ve drawn on recently, even when shoot an episode of “NCIS Los Angeles,” “Where over there Is smoke …,” a fire department-based episode through Chris O’Donnell and also LL Cool J that didn’t require me come do much in the method of research.

and also it’s a desire to try to assist people recognize the occupational these day-to-day heroes perform – especially those on 9/11 – that has actually prompted me to store updating the 9/11 film from the beginning, every 5 years, v interviews of the making it through members the Engine 7 and also Ladder 1, my old FDNY firehouse featured in the film.

ours five-year update focused on post-traumatic tension disorder. The 10-year update focused on the cancers and other illnesses that were affecting the firefighters affiliated (hat tip to former Directors Guild the America president Michael Apted because that the idea of the five-year updates).

Now, together the 15th anniversary approaches, us have made decision to look come the future and the rebuilding the the FDNY and also the new One civilization Trade Center, the beautiful rebuilding of the soil zero site, and also the national September 11 Memorial & Museum. Lot of the update, i beg your pardon includes about 21 minutes of new footage, will focus on the brand-new FDNY and also the “Legacy Kids” – teens who lost a member the their family on 9/11 and also grew as much as follow in their fathers’ footsteps. This young men are a huge part of the brand-new FDNY.

i don’t think I have gone more than a couple of days because 9/11 there is no talking, emailing or text massage with few of the guys from the film. I have tried to live my life because 9/11 in a positive and also forward-looking way. But I owe it to the men and also women to play my part in not letting united state forget those that cannot be right here today because of that destructive tragedy.

might we never forget that September 11. Might God host in his arms all those we shed that damaging day. And also may he continue to bless the FDNY.