Recollections of a responder and victim’s sister
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Magazine, Sept/Oct. issue)
Fairfield, CT – On the eleventh day of the month ten Septembers ago, America’s innocence was taken when hijacked jetliners were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Towers. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attack, the effect of which rippled to communities far and wide. Fairfield, just 60 miles from Ground Zero, was among these areas. On this somber anniversary, a responder and victim’s family member, both Fairfielders, shared their memories of the events that unraveled that chaotic day.
Paper, Steel and Dust
On the morning of the attack, Fairfield Asst. Fire Chief Doug Chavenello, then a lieutenant, was off duty and fishing for blues on his boat at Black Rock Harbor. A report over his marine radio indicated a serious event in New York. He reported to the firehouse and immediately started making plans to get equipment to Ground Zero.
At midday, he started down with four vehicles, steered first to a training academy in Westchester to await further instruction. While they were moved to a more forward staging area, they were not called into service and returned to Fairfield.
The following day, Chavenello handpicked 12 men and, with full gear, they took a train, then bus, to the site. “It was dusk and looked like a nuclear holocaust, with everything covered in gray ash,” he said. “There were hundreds of crushed, burned out and still-burning emergency vehicles.”
His team helped clear pathways then combed the “pile” to search for survivors. “We found a lot of body parts and knew some may have been fallen comrades. The site was very unstable. It was paper, steel and dust – everything else was gone.”
“A Dagger in My Heart”
Kathryn Lewis Hebert, a City of Norwalk employee, was home with her adopted daughter on 9/11. Her husband, Jay, a Norwalk firefighter called and asked, “Where’s your brother?” referring to Adam Lewis, a Fairfield resident and 36-year-old married father of four children ages 1 to 8. Kathryn expected he was working, as a trader for investment banking company Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, in Two World Trade Center. “You have to turn on the TV, do it now,” Jay said.
“It was like I was in slo-mo,” Kathryn said. “I turned it on just as, boom, the second tower was hit. Adam was on the 89th floor – I just knew he was dead. I couldn’t imagine anyone surviving.”
Still, as the search for survivors unfolded over the next few days, Kathryn and her family held out hope that maybe he was still alive, perhaps walking in a daze.
“Ultimately, we admitted the unthinkable and, for closure, conducted a memorial service at Westport Country Playhouse,” she said. “Over 1,000 people attended. It was quite amazing.”
The emptiness lingers. “It was a dagger in my heart,” she said. “He had an enormous amount of energy and lots of friends. He was so full of light and happiness.”