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Shelbyville firefighters recall reactions to 9/11

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Over 400 emergency workers who responded to the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were killed. This includes 343 firefighters, according to a New York Fire Department source.  

Shelbyville Fire Chief Matt Doak recalls being “livid” that day.  

Doak served in the U.S. Marine Corps beginning in 1991. He became a gunnery sergeant and eventually retired in 2011.  

During that time, he also bought Doak-Howell Funeral Home to help carry on the family business since his father was an embalmer and funeral home director for many years.    

“Growing up in the funeral home business, you understand life and death more. You value life a whole lot more and you understand grieving and death...” said Matt’s brother, Caleb, who’s also a full time City fireman.    

“It helps you be more compassionate and understanding on first responder scenes. When you come across a death or a tragic scene, you know how to help the families,” Caleb Doak said.  

The on-the-scene death, which the Doaks have also experienced through their firefighting duties, is in many ways more traumatic that the after-death of a funeral home.  

So when the nearly 3,000 Americans suddenly perished in the morning hours of Sept. 11, the death toll was resounding beyond belief.  

Now two decades after Sept. 11, 2001, people can acknowledge the events of 9-11 on the anniversaries and move.  

But, according to Caleb Doak, those kinds of events never leave the first responders’ world.    

“As a firefighter, you just can’t imagine what all those men and women went through that were trying to get people out. So, it brings it close to home,” said Caleb.    

He was working at the Shelbyville Airport on U,S, 231 North when he received the news the Towers had been struck. They locked down the airport. Caleb called Matt, who had just gotten off shift at the fire department. While on the phone, the second Tower was hit. They knew what was happening.    

But even with all the carnage the day will forever be shrouded in, the work done by the first responders was still a feat, especially since they were dealing with high occupancy levels of high-rise buildings.    

“When it fell, I was really surprised the numbers weren’t higher. They had done such a good job of evacuating. It’s still a hard number to wrap your head around, but I was really proud of those guys for the number of people they saved,” said Matt Doak.    

The Doaks helped put out displays with City-County partners. On this 20th anniversary day, there is a memorial in front of the police and fire department with a ceremony held at 8 a.m. in the front parking lot.     

The brothers agree that even 20 years later, it’s important to keep 9/11 remembrances alive in the minds of the younger generations―for those who were young or not born yet.    

“It’s just like any other major history incident; it doesn’t need to be changed or altered. Everybody needs to understand how it happened, why it happened, and how this country came together as one,” said Caleb.  

Lives influenced  

Shelbyville Deputy Fire Chief Eric Smith said he became a firefighter to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. He was a young firefighter at the time of 9/11. He was watching the news and called Caleb Doak before carrying on with the rest of his duties.  

“It was hard to watch. But you have to have courage in the job you’re doing,” he said.    

For Blane Crump, Shelbyville fire captain, he recalls being at the station “mopping the floors” when he heard of the first crash into the tower.    

After being rescued by first responders while in a severe accident in his teens, Crump knew he wanted to be able to do the same for others, he said.  

One of the things he enjoys the most about being a firefighter is that “every day’s a new day,” even if it includes just mopping the floors.     

But on that day of Sept. 11, 2001, it felt different. A young man of only 20 years, all he said he knew was that he “still had a job to do.”    

For firefighter Eric Hayworth, his response to 9/11 was a little more drastic.  

He was a 21-year-old working at Jostens, where he watched as America came under attack. He knew he wanted to join the armed forces.  

“Six months later I was in bootcamp,” he said.  

Hayworth joined the Marine Corps. and served from 2002-06; he was deployed twice and worked as a motor transporter.    

The time around 9/11 was a “frustrating time,” he recalls as America found itself in need.    

After serving in the Marines, Hayworth went on to join the National Guard. Now, he’s been at the Shelbyville Fire Department for about four years, knowing what to experience and how to work in a team.  

And if there’s anything this Shelbyville band of brothers counts on, it’s the comradery that allows them to go through the weight of their responsibilities together―during traumatic emergencies and during the anniversaries of 9/11. 

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