Thursday, September 12, 2013

East Manatee resident opens up about his 9/11 experience

East Manatee resident and 9/11 survivor Garrett Lindgren says speaking publicly about that day has been his way of dealing with the emotional toll it took on him. JASON BARTOLONE/Bradenton Herald
Lots of people had a personal connection to 9/11.

Not everyone can say they lost 62 people they knew personally that day.

Garrett Lindgren can.

The 55-year-old East Manatee resident was a New York City firefighter back in 2001. He had just gotten off duty the morning of Sept. 11 when the first plane struck the Twin Towers.

"Everyone I had coffee with that morning was killed," Lindgren told me.

Now retired, Lindgren has advocated on behalf of first responders suffering health effects since 9/11. He's done speaking engagements at Sept. 11 remembrance ceremonies, including this week's "Lakewood Ranch Remembers 9-11" program at Manatee Technical Institute's East Campus in Lakewood Ranch. And through it all, he's battled his own health problems and the same post-traumatic stress disorder many 9/11 survivors face.

Speaking at events like Wednesday's MTI ceremony can be "extremely emotional," Lindgren said. In fact, he went about five years, from 2002 to 2007, not even speaking publicly about 9/11, until he was talked into being the guest speaker at a "Tribute to Heroes" luncheon in Bradenton on the anniversary.

"It's therapeutic," said Lindgren, who lives in GreyHawk Landing. He admits he had become disconnected from his wife and two children for years, and it wasn't until he started opening up about 9/11 that he began to return to his old self.

His message is sobering and powerful, especially for those MTI students and future first responders who might someday face a traumatic event the way Lindgren did 12 years ago. And if they do, he advises they find a way to talk about it.

"Physically it's really tough. Emotionally it's really tough. You deal with children trapped in fires and things like that and it tears your heart out," he said. "And then you get slammed with something like (9/11), it's more than somebody can take in. I guess folks look at firefighters and they figure, 'Oh, that's a pillar of strength, that's who comes when you dial 9-1-1, that's the cavalry.' But inside you're a person, you're human being. You put that aside and you do your job. but at some point it's got to come out. It just has to."

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