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The Rediff Interview/Former New York fire chief Daniel Daly
Daniel Daly, former battalion chief
of the New York fire department, has been traveling the world sharing his message of peace and hope.
Fondly referred to as 'Chief
Dan Daly,' he visited India recently on a week-long trip. During his stay in New Delhi, he toured various
schools in and around the capital and spoke about the tragic event and its aftermath.
In an exclusive interview with Chief
Correspondent Onkar Singh at the American Centre, Daly felt 9/11 has changed America's attitude
towards the world, and particularly India which has been fighting terrorism in Kashmir and the Northeast.
How would you describe
your experience after the planes struck the twin towers?
When I arrived at Ground Zero there were many feelings and the most
pronounced was that of disbelief.
I felt as if I had landed on the moon. The sun had been blacked out by thick dark dust,
people were running around covered with blood. It was a different place than the Manhattan I had known.
What was your immediate
There was a feeling that this could be a nationwide attack and nobody knew how far that would extend.
was more concerned about the two buildings that could hold 50,000 people. This meant there could be that many victims
in the towers.
What went through your mind as you and your men fought a relentless battle in the rubble, rescuing victims
and pulling out dead bodies?
It was very, very difficult work. For six months we were walking around with buckets and
shovels and picking up tiny pieces of human beings. It was heart rendering and very emotional work.
As volunteers from world over
started arriving, it became a place of great inspiration as well.
Ground Zero became a very spiritual place where love and caring
became a dominant feature in our emotions.
How difficult were the rescue operations? Do you think the death toll could have been
When we are on rescue operations we are not thinking logically. We are trained to do our job.
When I went to Ground Zero
and I saw that huge mass of twisted steel I said, 'Oh my God there could be 50,000 people in there.' The situation
was hopeless because we were starting with buckets and shovels. We decided we must go in and do it because there are people
As the days passed and nobody came alive the realisation dawned on us that there would be very few people alive. We
were able to rescue 25,000 people but still 2,800 people died.
This was the biggest rescue operation in US history.
you ever visualise a situation where fire services would have to tackle a tragedy of this magnitude?
We are trained
for terrorist attacks, but never in our wildest imagination did we ever think there would be one of such great magnitude that
the buildings would come crumbling down.
So in some respects we were caught off guard.
Has the experience changed
you as a human being?
I think it has. I lost 343 co-workers including some of my closest friends who had joined the fire
department in New York with me 24 years ago.
When you work in a situation like that where there is so much of death and destruction
you cannot help but think about what really matters in life.
I thought a lot about how fragile peace is. How fragile life is.
We need to work in that direction. So it has changed me.
I took my retirement last November and have been going
around the world and stressing upon the need to work together. Like we did at Ground Zero. Removing rubble together.
idea is to work towards peace and against terrorism. Terrorism can never be an acceptable form of protest.
How are you mobilizing
people to join you in your effort against terrorism?
I am trying to bring about some kind of awareness amongst people against terror. Many countries that are already suffering
from terrorism are already aware of its ghastly face.
Terrorism brought about by a small minority of people but has enormous power. We have
to fight terror.
My focus is children who are going to inherit the world from us. I do not want the young ones to feel that the world
is devoid of good and caring people. The world is full of loving and caring people -- that is my message to them.
has been your trip to India?
I have always liked spicy food and have come to the right country. The people have been simply wonderful. Speaking to school
children has always been the brightest part of my trip. When you look into their eyes you feel the future of the planet is
What has been the response in India?
wonderfully spiritual and intelligent people.
The response has been generally very good. Some of the questions that have been put
to me are difficult because they refer to America's political role. I found them very supportive in condemnation of acts
They agree with me that terrorism is not an acceptable form of protest and there are other means by which you can protest.
true that post 9/11 people in the United States understand what we in India have been going through in Kashmir and other
parts of the country?
There is no doubt about it. When I stood at Ground Zero, I understood the sorrow of what other
countries have been going through for years and particularly India.
It is not just our problem, but it is a worldwide problem.
true that Americans did not care what other countries went through before the terrorist attacks?
That is not
true. I think we did care about what other nations were going through. A lot of our foreign policy is about helping people
and nations. Once we saw from close quarters the horror of what handful criminals can inflict, it brought the realisation
home to us.
We have more compassion for other nations. I think we all realise that. When it comes to terrorism there are no distinct
If that is so, then why make friends with Pakistan which has been exporting terrorism?
I cannot respond to that question
because I am not knowledgeable about what is going on between the governments of the US, Pakistan and India.
If the US is
making friends with nations like Pakistan then it is to get to the root of terrorism. We all need to work together to give
our children a safe world.
The stronger the action we take against terrorism, the stronger the backlash. Is that true?
that is true. But this does not mean we take no action against those who indulge in terror. It would not be correct to do
is only a matter of time that those who strike terror have weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons. If
that does happen then it would be a scenario beyond repair. That is why we need to look at this problem with a sense of urgency.
ever get up in the middle of the night and say 'Oh God, this should not have happened?'
Yes, that happens sometimes.
When I travel by air and look at Ground Zero I still cannot believe that the whole thing could have happened.
One of the things
that stand out in my memory is when I found the hand of a woman with a ring on it. I thought this woman was married, she had
a husband and a family and it was just not another piece of flesh.
I cry a lot. This journey is difficult, but it is worth it because
it is a part of my healing process.
Design: Dominic Xavier
The Rediff Interviews