Like most people, winger Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks can still recall the morning of September 11, 2001. A high school junior at Saunders Secondary School in London, Ont., at the time, he remembers walking through the halls that morning and looking into a classroom only to see the unbelievable images coming from downtown Manhattan.
"When you see something like that on TV, it definitely shocks you," Perry says. "I had no idea what was going on."
Not many people did. What the world witnessed will never be forgotten, and the emotional resonance from that morning remains all over New York City, most definitely inside the city's firehouses. So it was only natural that the New York Rangers paid visits to a handful of companies throughout the city this week. But on a wet Wednesday evening, four days before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Perry, a player who suits up 3,000 miles away for his home games, made sure to visit the firefighters at Engine 34, Ladder 21 in midtown Manhattan.
The Hell's Kitchen unit, one of the oldest in the city, may not have the bells and whistles of some of the other companies that frequently host notable people, but one thing it certainly has is hockey fans. The unit's house team plays throughout the winter and in the garage it proudly displays the FDNY Cup, a true championship trophy, which is actually a cooler painted silver with a silver bowl affixed to the lid.
Last week, some members played in New York's World Police & Fire Games. And each year, they all chip in a few bucks to get the NHL Center Ice package for the house. Though many of the unit's members are fans of the local NHL teams, when manning the office on the late shift, they catch plenty of Western Conference games.
So when Perry arrived, there was no real need for introductions.
"Fifty goals, and what, 98 points?" one of the firefighters recited to the reigning Hart Trophy-winner. "And over 100 penalty minutes. Gotta love that."
Certainly, Perry is a blue-collar player, the kind firefighters can't help but respect. But in that firehouse, it was the winger who was really in awe. Hanging on the wall, opposite a memorial for the seven firefighters the unit lost 10 years ago, he admired a singed sheet of metal, crumpled a bit like tin foil, that has the number 34 painted on it. It had been the door to their truck on 9/11, the only remnant from the engine that was obliterated when the towers collapsed upon it.
"It definitely puts things in perspective, [seeing] what these guys do on a regular basis," Perry says. "They were one of the first respondents to the 9/11 attack. They were in there. When you look at the [memorial] wall, you see the guys they lost. It reminds you that they're living it. ... They went through it."
Immediately after the attacks 10 years ago, fire departments from around the country came to New York City to offer help and support. While the FDNY's members were working tirelessly at Ground Zero, their brethren did what they could, such as taking care of the houses and going to funerals for the fallen while companies stayed on the recovery effort. A group from Anaheim reported to Engine 211 in Brooklyn, where John Sheehan had been a New York City firefighter for 11 years.
"It meant a lot to have those guys come in and help," Sheehan says, noting that Anaheim firefighters return to New York every September. This year, he's expecting 100 to make the trip from Orange County. It was through this brotherhood forged in the midst of tragedy that Perry came to visit Engine 34, Ladder 21. Sheehan helped organize the meeting when he learned that Perry was interested in visiting a firehouse while in New York for the NHL's preseason media tour.
"For me to do something like that today, it was extra special, getting a one-on-one tour through the firehouse," says Perry.
Coming from a long line of police officers, Perry understands to some extent the demands of a firefighter's job. But it was his first time touring a firehouse. He saw the trucks and learned about all the tools. He tried on the bunker jacket and helmet, of course, and did everything but take a slide down the fireman's pole. ("We don't want to be responsible for any preseason injuries," the firefighters joked.)
In the middle of the tour, though, a call came in over the speakers. An occupied elevator had stalled in a building three blocks away. In an instant, the men on duty put on their gear, hopped in the truck and went on their way.
"That was pretty cool," Perry says. "When they get the call, they just drop everything and away they go. ... The guy giving me the tour just said, 'Somebody else finish the tour. I gotta go.'"
No, not even the NHL's MVP could slow this intrepid unit. It returned some 15 minutes later, the firefighters pleased to report: "We got 'em out."
Just another day at the office, unlike the one 10 years ago.