Ex-N.Y. firefighter reflects on tragedy

Steamboat man: Don't sweat the small stuff anymore

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— Former New York City firefighter Kevin Nerney has a few projects to finish on his new home in Silver Spur Estates.

Countertops are needed. Several windows need final touches, and there are other aesthetic improvements on the work agenda.

But Nerney is in no hurry to finish the work. Sept. 11 has changed his perspective.

"Don't sweat the small stuff," Nerney said. "And it's all small stuff."

Nerney, 44, was a firefighter in a Brooklyn, N.Y., firehouse for 15 years. He stepped away from the job in July 2001 to retire in Steamboat Springs.

Two months later, several of Nerney's old buddies with Engine 207, Ladder 110 rushed to the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 attacks. Nine died.

Another 40 or so people Nerney knew also died.

He admits part of him feels guilty he wasn't there. But Nerney has gained a fresh perspective in the year since the terrorist attacks.

"There is no tomorrow anymore; there is just today," he said. "You could be anywhere, anytime, and it could be all over."

Nerney saw firsthand the destruction at the World Trade Center, getting on one of the first flights to New York when the dust settled. He spent 10 days volunteering and attending memorial services.

Seeing the remainder of his friends and feeling the emotion of the time was a lot to handle.

"Basically, these were some tough (men), and everyone was standing around crying," he said. "The raw emotion. That, you'll never forget."

Nerney worked side by side with his former colleagues searching through the rubble for victims, and he breathed the dust and ash that rose at the site.

Nerney coughed for several weeks because of the stench. The cough is gone now, but Nerney said the feeling of loss is still very much present.

"It's on the tip of everybody's tongue. It's not like it's yesterday's news. Nothing has changed," he said. "You still watch those shows on TV and you still get that lump in your throat."

With the day a year in the past, Nerney also sees more clearly on the loss of the firefighters. What killed the 200 firefighters and 40 police officers at the World Trade Center also is part of the allure of the job.

"We live and breathe for it. We thrive on (helping when there is) death and destruction," he said. "If it wasn't there, we'd be out of a job."

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