SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — For more than 200 years, amid the rolling hills and bucolic landscapes, life was simple in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Then, on a clear Tuesday in September 2001, the calm shattered.
“Saw the smoke come up and the explosion shook the house clear over here,” an eyewitness said, as he filmed video of smoke rising over the green hills.
“My wife called me. I was actually at my real job,” said Terry Shaffer, who on 9/11 was Fire Chief of the all-volunteer fire department in Shanksville.
He is now retired.
“We didn't even know whose airplane it was,” he said.
Firefighters raced to the scene, located in a field just a few miles from the fire station.
“There are still some smoldering in the crater where the plane had hit,” Chief Shaffer said. “And the woods were partially on fire.”
They worked to put out those flames and more.
“We did search long and hard to make sure that we just didn't miss something,” he said.
However, there was little left to search for United Airlines Flight 93.
“The plane had broken up into a lot of pieces,” Chief Shaffer said.
Since then, others have broken, too. Exposure to burning jet fuel that day is suspected of causing health problems among some of the first responders. Chief Shaffer also suffers from health issues.
“Nobody could ever pinpoint that that’s what it was,” he said. “We have guys that are passing away and have cancer and have other things. And, luckily, most of them have signed up through the World Trade Center health program.”
Chief Shaffer says, though, it’s not about them.
“We're not the story here,” he said. “The story here is the people on the plane.”
Every year on 9/11, the fire station opens its doors, ready to receive the loved ones of those on Flight 93. This year, they will do it again.
“We offered our building and to give them food and even just put the doors down and keep it private,” he said, though he adds they have never had to close the doors to others before.
Outside of the fire station, a large cross was erected. It is made of steel from the World Trade Center towers and honors all the victims of 9/11.
Inside the fire station, a collection of firefighter badges from across the country and all around the world covers one wall, just a small part of the unwavering support shown to these firefighters.
It is a support that’s deeply appreciated there.
“The outpouring of love from people, in general. There's more good in this world than there is bad, and hopefully that can spread,” Chief Shaffer said. “I do hope.”