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'If I'd stayed for one more coffee': Former FDNY firefighter pays 'Tribute to Heroes' as he reflects on 9/11

Firefighters, law enforcement and first responders as well as those from across Manatee County came together to honor those killed in the 2001 attacks.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The Manatee County Emergency Services Memorial Committee on Thursday held its Tribute to Heroes Luncheon.

Several events in the Greater Tampa Bay area are honoring the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The Manatee County Fire Chiefs Association in partnership with the Manatee County Emergency Services Memorial Committee held a 'Tribute To Heroes' luncheon in honor of first responders who were killed in the attack.

Firefighters, law enforcement and first responders as well as community members from across Manatee County were in attendance.

During the event, various ceremonies and invocations were performed in remembrance of the 2,977 lives lost, including the tolling of a bell.

A former New York firefighter who survived that tragic day said it still replays fresh in his mind like it was yesterday.

"On the morning of Sept. 11, we were having coffee in the firehouse, awaiting the shift change and I got relieved at probably about twenty-five minutes to nine, and I was going to go to my firehouse and have a cup of coffee with the on-duty crew and then go home and take a shower," said Garrett Lindgren who is now retired and lives in Bradenton. 

"I got from the firehouse in Queens and then drove may be five minutes, had just gotten on the bridge heading for the Bronx and I heard on the news that there was a fire at the World Trade Center."

Lindgren moved to Bradenton in 2003 and makes sure he attends memorial events in the community just like 'Tribute to Heroes' luncheon and the memorial which would take place at Rossi Park.

Lindgren said upon hearing about what was happening, he turned around and headed back toward his firehouse while his colleagues whom he had just left went ahead of him.

"By the time I got into the Bronx, the second plane hit and I'm rushing to get to my firehouse because I knew they were going to need everybody and then some," Lindgren said.

"My Captain and two other firefighters who were out at a dive session came in through the door and my captain just said grab your gear we are going into service and they were going to use our rescue company as stand by because they were expecting more attacks," he said. 

Feeling certain of the severity of the danger he was heading towards and that he was going to die, he said he called his wife, told her 'I love you' and 'Goodbye' in case he didn't make it back home. 

His team tried to get around the traffic jam that followed when the first tower collapsed and they barely got to the scene when the second tower fell. 

"It was just enough to leave us a minute or two out before that second tower came down," he said.

The guys he'd just left after having coffee perished. A total of 8 of Lindgren's colleagues from the Rescue 3 team from the Bronx were killed that day

"Their families didn't see them at that point I was the last person that saw them alive you feel a tremendous amount of guilt, what if I had stayed and had one more coffee I would've been on that rig and I would've been there and I wouldn't be here," he said.

 There are other local ties to the events of 9/11. Many of the attackers got their flight training in Manatee County and President George W. Bush was in a Sarasota school when he learned of the attacks.

"We had never seen these types of attacks before, using airplanes and we didn't know if we were going to get attacked here and so we're on high alert that day," Chief Michael Williamson, Chair, Manatee County 'Tribute to Heroes' 

The first responders hoped that events like this would help keep alive the memories and stories of the people who died.

"We want to never forget, we also want to restore American patriotism," Williamson said.

"Always respect your first responders, they want to come home at the end of the shift but they're going to put their life on the line if need be," concluded Lindgren.

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