When I called Frank Nunez, a former Jersey City firefighter who was a teacher and coach of mine, he was hesitant to answer questions about his 9/11 experiences. Here is the story he was willing to share.
Nunez worked shifts in a 48-hour span, and had worked from Sunday night until Tuesday morning. Every Tuesday at 5am, he would meet at the same diner with his father, a fellow firefighter who was about to start his 48-hour shift. After breakfast, he returned to his Jersey City apartment, closed the blinds, and went to bed as the sun rose. Around noon that Tuesday, he awoke to 15 voicemails, calls from family, friends, and his fellow firefighters.
“It was a sort of ‘call to arms’,” explained Nunez, who wasn’t even twenty-four at the time. “They needed all the help they could. I went down to a park right by my house with a clear view of the New York skyline. The skyline was covered with smoke, billowing out of the towers.” He couldn’t recall the specific images, calling them a ‘mish-mash’ of emotions and memories, but was overwhelmed by the amount of people coming together to witness this view from the park.
Nunez went to work shortly after, and assisted throughout the entire search and rescue process. While he was trying to describe some of the things he saw, he kept reiterating that everything was “hot, smoldering, and covered in soot.”
When I asked for more specifics as to some of the things that stuck out in his memory, he became very quiet, and didn’t speak for a few minutes. I tried to return to the question later, but he stated that he didn’t feel like talking about the things he saw. “Nobody should deal with what we did,” he said, and didn’t care to get into any further detail.
Shaken up by 9/11, Nunez went back to school to become a teacher, and is still a math teacher and varsity coach at Madison High School in New Jersey. He said that he still feels “pangs of anger and sadness around the day”, but said that every day makes things a little better.