Every day, Michael Simon is reminded of the 11 men he worked alongside as a rookie firefighter, in the lessons of the craft they had taught him and by their photos hanging on the walls of his Manhattan firehouse.
Ten years ago, all 11 died in the September 11 attacks, and Simon can still remember that warm, sunny September day: His mother calling to tell him to turn on the news, rushing to his West Village firehouse, hearing that hundreds of first responders were missing in the fiery rubble.
For days, he and fellow firefighters believed that the 11 would emerge from some pocket in the smoldering chaos of concrete and steel where 343 firefighters died.
"We never lost hope," he said, until Sept. 14, when the men found the remains of nine of their colleagues, crushed or pulverized in the World Trade Center's north tower. Two were never found.
He was stunned at how the remains had settled in the debris: In the same order of rank and position as the firefighters would line up when responding to New York City fires.
"They were up on a pile (in the debris), and getting them down from there was a job in itself."
The next day, the surviving firefighters performed the most wrenching task of all: Notifying the men's families.
It's taken the department years to fill the "vacuum of experience" left by the men who died that day, said Lieutenant Michael Thomas.
"They had a wealth of knowledge that they shared with us (and their) wisdom made me carry on to this day," said Simon.
He added, "I think of them every day, and what they had taught me."
Only a handful of firefighters from 9/11 remain at the firehouse, but "you get bombarded with it, you can't turn on the TV without being reminded of it," said Thomas.
"It's always the same every year.''
Image: The skeleton of the World Trade Center twin towers stand in the background as New York City firefighters work amid debris on after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. (Photo credit: AP)