There was never a moment when “Fireman Ed,” the iconic Jets fan who raucously leads the green and white faithful in chants and cheers, thought that he wasn’t going to go to Sunday night’s season opener against Dallas. The former Harlem firefighter, now retired, was entering his 15th year as a New York City fireman on Sept. 11, 2001.
Ed Anzalone lived and grew up in Queens and is proud of his career as a fireman which began in Brooklyn before moving on to Harlem. He had just ended a shift that morning and was home when one plane — then two — slammed into the World Trade Center towers. There was no immediate call for Anzalone or his truck to report to Ground Zero, but as Anzalone watched the smoke pouring from the buildings, he quickly grasped the tragedy.
And as he feared for those in the buildings, the danger his fellow firefighters would face came to light.
“I knew when those buildings were hit, a lot of our guys were going to die that day,” Anzalone told Metro.
Stations in Lower Manhattan were the first to respond, then Midtown and Brooklyn. His station in Harlem waited in frustration for a phone call sending them down to help in the search for survivors. The phone finally rang and his truck drove down to the pile of twisted concrete and rubble the following night.
As Anzalone stood there, surveying the site where two towers stood, the full magnitude of the loss enveloped him. He calls it “tragic” to do this day and “overwhelming.”
“What can you say? You know what will stay with me forever? There were 1,500 people whose remains were never recovered. People, when they knew their loved ones weren’t coming — people had a service or a wake with a closed casket, to get some sort of closure,” Anzalone said. “They found the remains, and they have another service. I never got over that.”
Three hundred and forty-three firefighters were lost. Like his brethren, Anzalone attended more funerals than he can remember. He can’t even begin to count how many friends and people he knew that he lost on that day. There were friends he grew up with, went to academy with, played against in different leagues and of course, the firefighters who befriended him and sought him out at Jets games.
“Going to so many funerals, that was tough,” Anzalone said. “You watch the kids grow up, growing up without a father. You try to do what you can to help, whatever you can.”
And on Sunday, Anzalone’s passion for the Jets came face-to-face with a poignant day for him and those firefighters like him who responded to help save lives. There was never a point where Anzalone didn’t consider spending three hours on Sunday night inside MetLife Stadium as “Fireman Ed.”
“The anniversary of 9/11 will always be with me all year,” Anzalone said. “The sensation you see now, it will leave. The press? They will leave. How I honor that day, remember it — it has nothing to do with football or the game that night.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for Jets news all season long.