Remembering 9/11: FDNY firefighter remembers how incident management teams helped the department

New York firefighter Lieutenant Stephen Rhine is currently assigned to the Lime Fire burning in Siskiyou County. He recalls how firefighters from around the country helped the FDNY on 9/11, and how they inspired his own department.

Posted: Sep 11, 2019 11:51 PM
Updated: Sep 12, 2019 3:49 PM

YREKA, Calif. — 2,977 people, including more than 300 firefighters, died on September 11, 2001. Almost 3,000 more have since died from 9/11 related illnesses.

Lieutenant Stephen Rhine with the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) — currently assigned to the Lime Fire burning in Siskiyou County — recalls how different incident management teams from around the country helped the FDNY that day, and how those teams then inspired the FDNY to create their own Incident Management Team.

18 years ago, Lt. Rhine was a New York City police officer. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, he became a firefighter. Today, he's a public information officer for the FDNY's all-hazards Incident Management Team. Right now, he's assigned to the 1,911-acre Lime Fire burning in the Klamath National Forest.

"The training that we receive while we're out here is instrumental to building our team and maintaining our team for our large scale incidents that may happen either in the city or some other all hazard that we would respond to," Lt. Rhine said.

Lt. Rhine said 18 years ago, New York didn't have an Incident Management Team. Teams from the west coast stepped up, helping the FDNY with whatever they needed, from supplies to incident action plans. Lt. Rhine said this helped the FDNY help the city get through the aftermath of the attacks.

"A lot of our upper management perished on that day, unfortunately. A lot of people were stuck and a lot of emotions were going on." Lt. Rhine added. "Having people come and help guide us in the direction we wanted to be headed and we were initially headed really helped us."

Once everything began to settle, FDNY created its all-hazards Incident Management Team. Lt. Rhine said they liked the style and structure of those teams around the country and how they operated the same no matter where they were located. Now, more than 300 people are assigned to FDNY's Incident Management Team. Their very first mission was to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana back in 2005.

"We've been down to Texas, Florida a few times, as well as Puerto Rico. We've been to Upstate New York and we've done numerous, numerous tasks throughout New York City," Lt. Rhine added.

Nearly 3,000 miles away from New York and 18 years later, Lt. Rhine is learning all about wildfires in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Before the Lime Fire, Lt. Rhine was assigned to the Taylor Creek Fire that burned more than 50,000 acres in Josephine County last year.

"I also come out here to help with the Incident Management Teams as sort of giving back because so many teams came to support our program in our city after September 11th," Lt. Rhine added. "We come out here to these areas of the country to give back and show our support. Giving back to the people of this great country is an unbelievable feeling that any one of us to have. Coming out to California and meeting the people that I get to deal with, meeting the people that are displaced, that are affected by the fire is a great feeling. I get to give back to somebody."

Once Lt. Rhine's time on the Lime Fire is complete, he'll take everything he learned back to New York to strengthen the FDNY Incident Management Team.

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