NEWPORT - Where were you when the sky fell on Sept. 11, 2001?
Shock and disbelief is the way many people describe their reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorists’ attacks. Today marks the 11th anniversary of that horrific day.
As with the assassination of President Kennedy and the Challenger explosion, anyone old enough to understand what happened at the time remembers where they were and what they were doing when they learned about the attacks.
Newport City Fire Chief Jamie LeClair was on vacation near Windsor Locks, CT.
“We were shopping at the time and saw it on one of the televisions in one of the stores,” LeClair recalled. “It was pretty shocking.”
The attacks hit close to home for LeClair who, at the time, was a captain with the Newport City Fire Department and a combat medic for the Army Guard.
“A lot goes through your mind,” said LeClair. “New York is a good travel distance away, but you never know being close to the border what they’re thinking about for this area or any other areas that line the border.”
LeClair wasn’t concerned for his safety and felt at ease after hearing that fighter jets were deployed. He wondered if he could do something to help, but realized that, in some instances, it is better to remain close to family and stay out of the way.
Since the attacks, regulations for fire service have gotten stricter, LeClair said. The interoperability allowing agencies to communicate together has improved.
There is tighter security at airports, border crossing has become more difficult and anyone entering the country needs to have some type of passport or enhanced driver’s license.
“It’s not just a matter of looking in the vehicles and waving you on through,” said LeClair. “They’ve always done a great job but, with the passport or enhanced driver’s license, you actually know this is the person you’re looking at.”
The attacks showed the United States is not bulletproof but, when hit, it responds with bigger hits, LeClair said.
Vermont State Police Lt. Kirk Cooper was home when he heard about the attacks from a friend who called him.
“Shock,” is the way Cooper felt. “I could not believe what happened.”
Cooper said he felt anger and wondered what else would take place. He was worried something might happen in Vermont.
“When anything like that takes place, with multiple strategic attacks, you wonder what other areas are targeted,” said Cooper. “There is that unknown factor.”
In Vermont, there is a heightened security level on the border, Cooper said. The state police routinely work with the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs. There are also more government employees to try to prevent terrorists from coming into the United States by land and more police patrols along the border.
The attacks sent members of the press scrambling to get the word out to the public. Many papers, including the Newport Daily Express, put out special editions on either the day of the attacks or the next day.
Newport Daily Express Publisher Ken Wells was working for WMOO-FM at the time. Wells was making a sales call at the Eastside Restaurant. Several of the servers were watching the television, some distraught and at least one was crying after the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
“We were all shocked to see the other tower hit,” said Wells. “Then there was a panic. The question was would they [the terrorists] hit every metropolitan area in the United States.”
Wells spoke highly of the United States Government's ability to shut down all planes flying over the country in order to prevent additional attacks. He also said the borders are safer now.
“It’s a hassle sometimes to get to and from other countries, but in the long run that is what we need,” said Wells. “I doubt another country will catch us with our pants down like this again.”