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'It's Just Endless': Ground Zero Firefighter Reflects On 9/11, And Meeting His 'Angel' That Brought Him To Maine

kevin and katie hogan.jpg
courtesy of the Hogans
Kevin and Katie Hogan holding Kevin's helmet outside of their home in Falmouth, Maine.

20 years ago, Kevin Hogan of Falmouth was a firefighter in the Bronx. On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, he had the day off. But when the first plane struck the World Trade Center, he headed into the city to help. He jumped onto a pick-up truck carrying firefighters to Ground Zero.

Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Kevin Hogan: As we were going down, the second building had come down. Once we parked, everybody just dispersed, you know, so I was by myself for a few minutes, walking to the site. I remember asking people, you know, if they were okay, and it was like they weren't responding, they were kind of like, in a daze. You know, they were full of soot.

So it was like a snow storm. It was, you couldn't really see. And then we started like, searching for people. So what they would do is they would assign a group of men, and they'd have a spotter when they got the heavy machinery around, and they would stop pulling the material that they were going to be moving around to get further into the collapse site. And what a spotter saw anything that would be any kind of clothing, or anything that he thought would be possible human remains and things, they would put his hand up and everything would stop. And then whatever group was there would work in that area. What I would do is, I would just, I would pray, I would ask God to help me to find something that would give someone closure so that their loved one would be found.

I was getting off in the mornings, I would get back to the firehouse and then go back down. And then as time went on, it was firehouse. Site. And memorials. The funerals were endless. My friend Pat and I — who was with me on the day that we went down — we probably we stopped counting, like 78 funerals.

Aside from doing all the funerals from our loved ones, and brothers and sisters that got killed down there on 9/11, now you go on to funerals of brothers and sisters that died from the outcome of being exposed to the toxins. A gentleman that worked in my firehouse in the Bronx just passed away in July. And he wasn't even 50 years old,
and he had three kids and he died of cancer from 9/11.

When I get a phone call from guys I haven't heard from I think, 'okay, who's sick?' instead of like, 'oh, it's Chris.' You know, I haven't spoken to Chris in a while, I wonder how he's doing. It's like, 'all right, what happened?'

I've been diagnosed with reactive airway disease, I have asthma. How much time do you have? I have asthma, chronic bronchitis. I have rhinitis and sinusitis. And now I've come down with a few years ago, an autoimmune disease, I have rheumatoid arthritis.

The PTSD is something you obviously learn to live with. I've been getting some treatment for it. When I'm sitting in my pity pot, you know, I will say to myself, there are 343 guys that wish they were in your place right now. You know, and then when I say that, then I think of some of my friends and I laugh with them. You know, I still talk to guys that were dear to me that I lost that day. I still have conversations with them. You know, it sounds crazy, but it's when I'm working on a house and stuff and I think of the guys, and yeah, I have conversations with them. It's just, it's endless. It really is. I feel blessed to be where I am today.

Katie Hogan: I'm Katie Hogan, Kevin's wife.

Kevin Hogan: So there's a photojournalist. He approached the chiefs and asked them if they would mind if he took some photos of the remaining firefighters. And he wanted to put them on display at the Portland Museum of Art. And he asked us to come up.

Katie Hogan: My girlfriend who's my dearest friend from childhood had contacted me about this event at the Portland Museum of Art, so I attended it with her. So I just remember catching a glimpse of Kevin and he just looked so sad and lonely standing at the bottom of the stairs and I immediately walked over to him, and I'm like, 'I just want to give you a hug.' I'm like, 'can I give you a hug?'

We did revisit each other the following evening and had a nice dinner with them. And as a result, we had exchanged contact information. I decided to apply to NYU, got an apartment, and I drove down on January 2 of 2002. And I parked on 13th Street and I hand delivered my application. And I looked across the street and there was a firehouse.

Kevin Hogan: I came down and there's this cute face. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, it's Katie.' We got married in August of 2006. I was still working full, full duty at the firehouse and then came on the injuries and illnesses in 2007, 2008.

During that time, we had two wonderful children and moved up to Maine in 2011. And now we live here in Falmouth, Maine. So out of something horrific, the most horrific time of my life, came my angel. Katie was put in my life to, I think, to help me get through this.

Kevin Hogan retired in 2008 because of health issues related to his work at ground zero. This weekend, as he and his wife do every year, the Hogans will head to New York to honor all the firefighters who've been lost as result of 9/11.