The attack on New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 had special meaning to the Powers family as we had just returned from a vacation on the east coast during which we visited New Your City. Tim, Jr., then a 17 year old senior at JDHS, had just signed on as a volunteer fire fighter in Juneau so our trip to New York not only had us visiting the World Trade Center but also several fire stations throughout the city as Tim was swapping Juneau Fire Department patches for T-shirts from the various stations.
With the devastating attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon happening in the morning on the east coast, my wife Luann was at work, our children Tim, Jr. and Kerri then 15, were at JDHS, and I was preparing to leave for work at the University of Alaska Southeast when we first heard of it. I quickly turned on CNN to witness the chaos in New York. Throwing in a video tape, I sat mesmerized as I witnessed the crumbling of the first tower followed by the second one. Throughout the day at the University, the attack was all that was talked about in the classrooms and hallways. Later in the day when the family sat around the television watching the video tape as well as the replays on the news, we learned of the attack on the Pentagon and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.
On Sept. 18, as the recovery efforts continued, our hearts were ripped out as we saw on the front page of the Juneau Empire a picture of a fire engine from Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9, the fire station at 8th Avenue and 48th Street in Manhattan. The article stated that this engine was destroyed in the attack and that an entire team of fire fighters on it has perished. This was the exact engine that Tim, Jr. and Kerri were sitting in while talking with fire fighters from the station a few weeks earlier. Tim, Jr. sent an email of condolence to the fire station, hoping that the fire fighters that he met were not among the victims. Early in the morning of Sept. 22 we were awaked by the phone — it was Dave Turner, one of the fire fighters from the station. You hear the fatigue in his voice as he was so exhausted that he could barely talk. He said that he had only gotten about 12 hours of sleep since the attack, but had to call us up in Alaska because he “needed to talk to the children to make sure that they were handling this thing okay.”
Frustrated she couldn’t post a flag on her school locker, Kerri began to wear a beaded flag pin that she had made in a crafts class. Then she made pins for friends. After Turner’s call, she decided to swap pins for donations to try to raise $100 for each family of the 15 killed firefighters. Ann Chandonnet wrote a beautiful front page article in the Juneau Empire describing this fund raising effort. With this publicity, the donations began pouring in. (Editor’s note: The article can be found at: http://juneauempire.com/stories/100801/Loc_flagpins.shtml.) Over the next few months the Powers family made over 2000 pins that were given out in exchange for any donation to the fire fighters’ families. The outpouring of generosity was breathtaking. Susan’s Hallmark in the Nugget Mall volunteered to prominently display the pins at the cash register and collect donations. After reading the story, an anonymous donor from Haines mailed a check for $100 in exchange for a pin. The Alaska Community Colleges Federation of Teachers faculty union at the University of Alaska donated $2500. While in the Alaska Airlines boardroom in Anchorage, Tim, Sr. received $75 from patrons and then an additional $200 from another anonymous donor. All told, the Powers family raised over $7,000, far exceeding Kerri’s $1500 goal. The money was sent directly to the fire station in New York where it was given directly to the fifteen families.
We visited Engine 54/Ladder 4 in Midtown as well as ground zero five years later, where the emotions hit us strong. To this day we meet friends that still wear or display their pins daily (Dirk, the bartender at Fletcher’s in the Captain Cook still has his on his suspenders). Though very small in the grand scheme of things, the generosity of Juneau and other Alaskans allowed us some sense of reaching out to the families of the Engine 54/Ladder 4 fire station — where their motto “The Pride of Midtown – Never Missed a Performance” rings true to this day.
Tim and Luann Powers
Note: Tim Powers is retired from the U.S. Coast Guard and two of his brothers are firefighters. At the start of his Coast Guard career his wife Luann and he were stationed on Governors Island (across the harbor from the World Trade Center from 1980 to 1986, and they often went to the WTC, even celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary in the Windows on the World restaurant on top of the North Tower, which Tim said was “a truly memorable moment for a young financially struggling family.”