Jeff Cabe

Orange Rural Fire Department Chief Jeff Cabe

It’s a memory seared into our brains. The News of Orange County reached out to several current leaders in community services that were most affected by the events of 9/11/01, to get their thoughts on that tragic day, what it has meant to their careers, and what they feel looking back. 

Jeff Cabe

Chief, Orange Rural Fire Department

What were you doing on Sept. 11, 2001? Working on my house. We had just started the building process. My wife called me from work and told me of the plane striking the first tower. At that point we thought it was an accident. 

What do you remember most about that time? The shock and devastation of the events in New York, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The stories of heroism during and following the attacks. The eerie silence caused by all the planes being grounded The appreciation we all had for our fire, EMS and Police. The pride everyone had in their nation and how we came together to raise money, give blood and care for one another. The pride we felt when nations around the world flew the American flag and held vigils for our fallen.

Did the events of 9/11/01 have any affect your career path? By 2001 I had been a full time firefighter for five years and with Hillsborough Fire for thirteen years. I knew what the usual risks were but that was the first time that firefighters had been killed on that large of a scale from a deliberate attack. As firefighters we know that the next response could be our last but we go anyway because somebody needs help. Prior to 2001, we had started receiving training about secondary devices and traps set to wound and or kill fire and police as they respond to incidents. (Columbine and the Olympic Bombings) I think most of us had developed a heightened level of situational awareness but those that faced the World Trade Center response had little choice but to try and save everyone they could, even if it meant dying in the process. None of us really want to die in the line of duty but we are aware of the risks and try to cope with them as best we can so that everyone goes home safe. Following September 11th, I think a lot of people left their careers in emergency services and even more questioned why they wanted to continue after seeing that level of death and destruction. Locally we were so busy focusing on the recovery and “what ifs” that we didn’t really stop to think about the reasons why.

Twenty years later, what do you think about now when you look back on that day? I never want to relive September 11, 2001 but I wish our nation would go back to the way we were in the weeks and months following the attacks. Go back to the times without all the divisiveness and distrust for one another. Following the attacks I think we really focused on the things that truly matter and differing opinions were okay. People could have opposing view points and still remain compassionate towards one another. Fire, Police and EMS were appreciated for the work they did and they were trusted. I miss those days — no pandemic, no political divide, no riots, people looked out for each other and trusted one another.