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New York fireman praises power of community


The power of community overcomes disaster, a New York City fireman who experienced 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy told Lacombe and area residents on Thursday.

“When these hard times come, people really rally around each other,” Gene Philcox explained at the Lacombe Leadership Prayer Breakfast.

“When you have that spirit going on, it’s a great experience.”

The 21-year Fire Department of New York veteran recounted leaving his firehouse on Sept. 11, 2001, “on a beautiful morning, which was an irony,” heading for the World Trade Center 16 km away.

His crew arrived to find the South Tower down and was touched as the fire department chief’s impromptu funeral procession passed.

“I saw his helmet hanging down and it had been cut cleanly in half. There was just a lot of tragedy all around.”

Philcox feared what would happen once inside the North Tower.

“It was a soul searching matter. You’re looking at people jumping out of windows and you know you have to go in, but you want to come out.”

The North Tower’s collapse was followed by an “eerie, hushed silence created by the dust.

“The silence was deafening. It was bizarre,” said the 51-year-old, adding the calm was shattered once car tires began exploding from underground fires due to broken gas and electrical lines.

When Hurricane Sandy struck last October, Philcox was coming off shift in Breezy Point, an area hard hit over the ensuing hours. Winds and tidal surges kept him there overnight and he worked a 24-hour shift in the storm’s aftermath.

“There were small fires here and there from downed power lines and broken gas lines, but people came from all over the country to help.”

He recounted how a group of elderly southern U.S. Baptist volunteers slept in his firehouse.

“We had no heat and no power and they were freezing, but they were such diehard giving people,” he said to laughter, adding the group set up a tent outside the hall and stayed a month.

More laughter followed as he explained how New Yorkers renowned for directness and impatience pulled together in the wake of the disasters.

“Good does come out of these things, the community spirit was very wonderful.”

That unity’s now exhausted, he said, because New Yorkers, like many other Americans, “are divided on how to do what’s best for the country.”

A devout Christian and church director from East Rockaway, Philcox is thankful for his faith.

“Where’s God in all this? We have God’s word no matter what the situation is. God is real and he’s there for us.”

The 260 people at the second annual event in the Lacombe Memorial Centre offered prayers for Lacombe’s mayor, council, police and fire departments.

rfiedler@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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