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Like most of us, John Battistoni remembers where he was on September 11, 2001—he was at home in rural Stone County. He recalls how he felt as the events of that day unfolded.
“It was just utterly disbelief at first, and total shock with the first plane. But I didn’t have a good feeling about it—there’s no way an airliner with today’s technology and pilot training would intentionally hit the tower like that. When the second one hit, I knew something was foul. I just automatically assumed it was a terrorist hit, that they finally got us on our soil. It troubled me deeply. I was really upset. I felt helpless. There’s something I wanted to do but there’s nothing I could do.”
Battistoni says he had been scheduled to visit his customers who worked in the towers the week after the attacks. So, on 9/11 he began calling the people he knew who worked at the World Trade Center.
“The folks I knew, one of them in particular, we had become good friends over the years and he was having his first baby. I couldn’t reach him. We just couldn’t get through. The uncertainty is the worst part. It was horrible. Finally, several days later, we connect up. I talk to his wife and I ask if she’s ok because she’s 7 or 8 months pregnant. But they managed to get out with the first strike.”
Still, Battistoni was deeply shaken by the attacks on 9/11 and wanted to go after those who were behind the attacks.
“I did try to join the Marines but I was too old. So, I said there’s got to be something I can do. And driving up the street here, by one of our fire stations, there was a sign up that said ‘Volunteers Needed.’ I was like, ‘It’s hot. It’s dangerous. I’m fat, out of shape, and I’ve had a heart attack. I don’t think they’ll want me.’ After driving by a couple of times, I decided that even if I can’t be in New York or taking the fight wherever it’s going to be, I can help here. So, I went applied and they said I could start. So I started in January, 2002. That’s when I joined and started getting training.”
By becoming a volunteer firefighter, Battistoni felt like he was making a difference in his own community and he had a kinship with those who worked so hard responding to the attacks on 9/11.
“You never think about this if you’ve never been in the military, police or fire, those are people running TO bad situations, unknown situations. It’s not this stuff that’s on TV, making things really bad so you can get out of it. You don’t know what’s going to happen. The firefighters, they went in not knowing about the second plane coming in, or how bad it was, but they went in to help people and save them. Your time ran out at that point. So, that was a connection.”
That connection runs deep: The logo for Company 343, which lost all its members in New York on 9/11, is on the fire trucks for the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District.
After Battistoni signed up as a volunteer firefighter, what followed were years of middle-of-the-night alarms, family gatherings interrupted by calls for help, and narrow escapes from dangerous situations in burning buildings. Battistoni acknowledges that there were times he questioned his decision to commit to such an intense volunteer experience, but he kept wondering if he didn’t do it, who would?
“Every time I get on call, it’s a gut check. I’m scared to death. But when it’s the worst day of your life, you’re looking for help, you don’t need someone to melt down. You go in there and do the job. We need to help each other. That’s our logo for our fire district: Neighbors helping neighbors.”
As the country prepares to mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a day when neighbors did indeed reach out to help neighbors, Battistoni is putting out the call to find what you’re passionate about and make a difference in your own community.
“When you go out and you say you’ve helped somebody, regardless of what you’re volunteering in, it’s worth so much, knowing you helped somebody. They can appreciate what you’ve done for them. Not that you’ve just donated money, but you’ve donated yourself to helping them. So, go do it folks.”