‘Like working in a field of razorblades’: Firefighter Brenda Berkman recalls responding to 9/11 terror attacks

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Two decades later, the memories of Sept. 11 are still fresh for former firefighter Brenda Berkman.

“We were desperately seeking anyone who might still be alive,” she said. “It was like working in a field of razorblades.”

Berkman was off-duty on Sept. 11, 2001. When she heard about the attacks, she headed to a nearby firehouse.  

While waiting for transport to ground zero, she and her fellow firefighters watched the South Tower fall on television. 

When they arrived in Manhattan, Berkman remembers everyone on scene was immediately put to work.

“We tried our best to find anything related to anyone who was lost down here, to try and give the families some kind of peace,” she said.

She ended up working on-site almost every day in the immediate wake of the attack. In April of 2002, she volunteered to spend the entire month at the site searching for remains.

“There’s a lot of sorrow that I have that’s connected to this place,” said Berkman, who gives tours of ground zero. 

Now retired, Berkman’s projects have a connection to the day Americans will never forget. 

In addition to being a volunteer tour guide on the 9/11 Memorial, Berkman does other projects with 9/11 survivors. 

She’s also an artist, and her project “36 Views of One World Trade Center” was debuted as part of the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11.

Berkman noted: 343 firefighters were killed that day. 

Berkman, a trailblazing firefighter, said it is the resilience and tenacity of New Yorkers, including first responders and essential workers, that helped rescue efforts on that dark day. Those New Yorkers have continued to serve and give hope throughout the pandemic, she added.

“We need to honor them. We need to understand and commemorate everything that happened accurately,” Berkman said. “Then we need to build back better, like we have down here at the World Trade Center.”

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