Firefighter shares post-9/11 work

Anyone living 10 years ago has no trouble remembering where they were or what they were doing on Sept. 11.

"I was at work…", is how Ben Avon volunteer firefighter Steven Kosak started off the personal account that he shared with Avonworth seniors last Monday.

While most people were picking up their kids from school or sitting, jaws dropped, in front of their television sets, Kosak continued his daily routine of working in his car lot, periodically checking in at the bar next door to see the breaking news of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He eventually learned of a plane that went down in Shanksville, PA, which is only a little over an hour drive east of his lot.

As a volunteer firefighter since the time he was a teenager, Kosak had been in countless situations in which he had to risk his life in aid of others and witness a number of horrific sights. However, nothing could come close to what he would have to face three weeks after the attacks, when he was called to be a part of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management team carrying out Operation: Clean Sweep in Shanksville, where volunteers assisted in sorting through the wreckage.

He recalled that once on the scene, the smell of fuel still lingered all about the site. He described the crater he saw as, "…about the same size in diameter of this room," he said while pointing along the walls of the classroom where students listened at full attention. "It was also nearly 50 feet deep, with debris scattered everywhere."

At that point he passed around his own keepsake from the site. What he considered a "sizable" scrap in comparison to the rest of the debris was a fairly unrecognizable chunk of metal, just a few inches long, that showed signs of extreme heat and destruction.

Kosak described the gruesome job faced by him and his fellow volunteers. The crash site had been gridded off and each firefighter's job was to walk his lines, in search of whatever debris he could find. Debris included, but was not limited to, rivets, seat covers, papers, unrecognizable steel pieces, and the remains of the passengers.

One evening, Kosak and some of his fellow volunteers were unwinding at the local restaurant in Shanksville. They were all, "…looking for anything to lighten the mood, which was somber, to say the least." They were just about to call it a night when a group of Marines entered. At that moment, the band that had been playing in the background went silent. Suddenly the guitarist broke into his rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," in the notable style of Jimi Hendrix.

“At one point a Marine and I were each thanking each other for each other's service," he said, "it gave us something to bond over -- we were both serving our country.”