When Ann Van Hine woke up on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, she was looking forward to the day ahead.
At the time, she was a ballet teacher at her own school in Bergen County, New Jersey, just northwest of New York City. Her husband, Bruce, a member of the Bronx New York Fire Department (FDNY) Squad 41, was on duty; their two daughters, Emily and Megan, had just returned to school.
The semester at Van Hine’s ballet school hadn’t started yet, which meant she had this sunny day to herself. “I was very excited about that day because it was supposed to be a day for me where I could do whatever I wanted,” she said.
Before starting her day, she stopped by her school to check some messages. She was back in her car, around 9 a.m. – then she heard the news.
“On the radio, they were talking about a plane that had hit the World Trade Center,” Van Hine said. “Then, as I put the car in reverse, they announced that another plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I sat there for a few minutes trying to understand what they were saying.
Van Hine drove to their home in Greenwood Lake, New York (about 50 miles from Manhattan), and in doing so, she heard another announcement on the radio.
This time, it was the FDNY which issued a total recall, meaning all firefighters to report to the service. Being the wife of a firefighter herself, that’s when she realized the importance of the situation – the fire department usually does not issue full reminders on public radio waves. .
Like everyone else that day, when she got home she was glued to the TV, but pulled away at one point to pick up her daughters from their high school. As the events of the day unfolded before Van Hine’s eyes, she knew that Bruce was out there in the field doing a job he was well trained for.
“As a firefighter’s wife, I couldn’t think of exactly what he was doing,” she said. “I just thought it was his job and that he knew what he was doing and that the other firefighters were supporting him.”
That thought carried her until around midnight, when there was a knock on the door – the FDNY. Van Hine has learned that Bruce is missing.
Ann and Bruce Van Hine married in 1980. When they got married, each owned a small business. Bruce was an arborist and owned his own business; Ann owned the ballet school. The couple were soon lucky enough to have two daughters.
Living in the Northeast, Bruce’s tree work was seasonal. This meant that he had to choose other types of work during the winter months.
One night, shortly after their wedding, the couple were sitting together at the table. Bruce was looking for a job and wasn’t sure what to do. Ann asked him what he always wanted to be when he grew up.
Bruce, who was the first cousin of Mebane resident Jean White and the first cousin of Mebane resident Jonathan White, said he always wanted to be a firefighter in New York City.
“So go ahead,” Ann told him. So he did.
In the summer of 1980, Bruce signed up to take the test, which was offered a year later in September 1981.
“He took the written test, the physical test, the psychological test, and the list came out and he had done pretty well,” Van Hine said. “We assumed he would be hired at any time, but that list ended up in the middle of a trial – it was in the discrimination against women trial. So the city couldn’t hire this list until they redone the physical test. “
So Bruce started working for the West Point Fire Department in West Point, NY until in 1990 he was hired at the FDNY.
After years of waiting, Bruce made his lifelong dream come true and was a firefighter in New York City. It was originally parked on engine 79, truck 37 was later assigned to squad 41.
Sunday September 9, 2001. It was the last time Ann and her daughters saw Bruce. He was on duty Sunday night through Monday night, and he had scheduled for what’s called a makeup tour on Tuesday. Make-up tours allow firefighters to have their schedule the way they want.
“We had decided that he would spend Monday night at the fire station because, why drive more than an hour, probably an hour and a half, go home to sleep and get back in the car,” Van Hine said.
It is not clear how everything went that day for Bruce and Squad 41. “I understand that after the first plane hit they were sent to lower Manhattan to enter Squad 18. , but as they were heading down Manhattan the second plane hit, so they went straight to the World Trade Center, ”Van Hine said. .
Bruce, four other firefighters, and a lieutenant, all from Squad 41, climbed into the second tower after being hit and climbed quite high. The other members of Squad 41 believe they have gone up to the first hall in heaven, to the 44th floor. The group descended with civilians when the tower collapsed.
“Corn [the remainder of] Squad 41 didn’t know exactly where they had gone, which is why he was missing, ”Van Hine said. “They finally found where the truck was parked and realized they must have entered the building.”
As mentioned above, Ann Van Hine and her daughters didn’t learn of what happened to Bruce until around midnight that night, when Lt. Charlie Schmid of Squad 41, now retired, came to their house. to tell them the news.
“They said he was missing and, to that, I replied, ‘I have no doubt that God can take me through this, but I don’t want to go through this,” Van Hine said. “The minute I said, ‘I don’t want to,’ in my head, I thought to myself always saying to my own daughters and all of my students, ‘Most of my life. has nothing to do with what you want to do. ‘”
Ann said she didn’t feel scared – she was incredulous, stunned that something like this was happening. In the days that followed, the FDNY and Van Hine’s family and friends rallied them. But the shock, the pain of it all – not just Bruce’s death but that day in general – was immeasurable.
“We have suffered personal loss in the midst of an international tragedy and there is really nothing to tell you how to do that,” Van Hine said.
On September 18, a week later, the FDNY announced the site was moving from rescue to recovery – they no longer expected to find anyone else alive. Shortly after this announcement, Van Hine made his daughters sit down and asked them, “Where do you think daddy is right now?” They both replied, “Heaven”.
“Then I said we need to have a memorial service; our faith is very important to us and that is what has sustained me all these years, ”said Van Hine. “We had a memorial service scheduled for September 29, 2001 and this service brought glory to our God, which was important to us, and it also celebrated Bruce’s life.”
Following the service, on October 1, Van and the girls set out to establish what they called their “new normal” as they tried to emerge from the tragedy.
But, in March 2002, that new normal was shaken when Ann got startling news. Bruce’s body had been found. Lieutenant Schmid asked Van Hine if she wanted to come and see his transported body; she refused and said, “There are pictures that I can’t have my head on.”
Schmid told him it would take about six weeks to identify the body to make sure it was Bruce. Ann didn’t say anything to her daughters until he was identified.
When asked what it was like to hear this news, both for her and her daughters, when they had worked so hard to move forward, Van Hine said: Rock out now.
In the years since that day, Van Hine took a trip. One that parallels Ground Zero’s evolution from a place of death and destruction to the moving commemorative plaza that it is today. Van Hine explained this.
She said that after the attack, the site was called the heap, because all the debris was there. Once the debris was cleared, it was called the pit – a void serving as a reminder of what was lost. After the pit, came the place, which filled the void that was the pit.
“So in a way for me, I had the attack of losing Bruce – and we all have things happening in our lives that rock you right down to your foundations,” Van Hine said. “Then there are a bunch of things to do, is it funeral arrangements or treatment or finding a new job? Whatever it is, eventually you’ve walked through the pile, and now there’s a pit and that’s when you realize what’s really lost. And how do you get that back, how do you fill the hole to be whole again? Then hopefully you end up with a spot.
Even though 9/11 affected the Van Hine family, Ann has always made sure that this isn’t what defines them. This is something she pointed out to her daughters.
“I always told them 9/11 didn’t define them – they weren’t 9/11 kids, their father died in the line of duty,” she said. “They appreciate it when people tell them, ‘Your father was the hero’ or ‘Thank you for your sacrifices’, but they haven’t lost a hero, they’ve lost their daddy.
On the 20th anniversary of September 11, Van Hine hopes Americans will remember all those affected, directly or indirectly, by the events of that day. She noted that it is important to remember and honor those who have survived just as much as those who have died.
“I want people, especially this year 20 years from now, to remember people who saw things that day that no one should ever see,” Van Hine said. “With the tragedies, and it’s true, we focus on the loss, but there are people who saw things on September 11 that no one should see, ever …”
Van Hine mentioned World Trade Center workers and those who contracted 9/11-related illnesses, in particular.
“There are a lot of people who have died from 9/11 related illnesses and there are a lot of people who are sick with 9/11 illnesses – so that’s kind of what I want people to think, I appreciate that they think about who they consider heroes to be, that Bruce would never call himself a hero, he would tell you that he was doing his job, ”she said. “But there were other people whose lives were totally turned upside down that day and they were heroic as well. They took out on their own, they took out their friends, they took out complete strangers, they moved on in their lives and we have to remember that too. It is said that on this day we saw the worst of mankind, but we also saw the best of mankind.
Ann Van Hine has written a book about her journey during and after 9/11 titled “Pieces Falling: Navigating 9/11 with Faith, Family, and the FDNY”, published last month.