CLAYTON -- For Dave Carpenter, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, don’t feel like they happened 11 years ago.
Carpenter retired from the New York City Fire Department in 2005 after developing breathing problems, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about the day that changed everything.
With a shrine in his home dedicated to the firefighters that werelost that day, Carpenter makes sure he can’t forget.
“I keep the faith of all the guys who died,” he said.
“I’m never gonna get over it.
“I am who I am because of 9/11.”
Carpenter retired along with all of the other firefighters in his company who were first responders at the collapse of the Twin Towers.
They all developed a combination of breathing problems, constant heartburn and post-traumatic stress.
In Clayton, Carpenter could live near his parents and escape the constant reminders of 9/11 and the career he had to leave behind.
So he moved south in August 2005.
On Sept. 12, at The Flip Side in Clayton, people streamed in and out of the door behind Carpenter, who was sitting at atable.
When they spotted him, he got up to shake their hands, clap them on the back or give them a hug.
“I was thinking about you yesterday,” one person told him.
A young girl informed him that she talked about Carpenter in class on the 9/11 anniversary.
“I have a good friend-base here; it keeps me strong,” Carpenter said.
“I enjoy the people I’ve met around here.
“They text you and say, ‘I’m thinking about you.’”
Carpenter says his goal nowadays is to figure out his purpose in life – the reason why he’s still here and not among the 343 firefighters who perished that day.
When the call came in to his fire station in the South Bronx, Carpenter loaded on a truck to head to a staging area, but the driver misread the ticket and went 30 minutes in the wrong direction.
By the time they got there, the first tower had collapsed, and Carpenter said he looked up to see dozens of people jumping to their deaths from the second tower.
As they approached the second tower, mere yards from going inside, Carpenter said he and his fellow firefighters heard a loud snap and looked up to see the second tower begin to pancake downward.
Carpenter and everyone else kicked into survival mode and began to run, heading for the light on the other side of the suffocating dust and smoke.
Once the second tower had fallen and the dust settled enough for them to turn back around, Carpenter said he already knew it was hopeless.
“It was just too quiet, no one was alive,” he said.
“The only thing that was there was falling paper and silence.”
At 5 a.m. Sept. 12, after a 24-hour shift, Carpenter and his crew finally left Ground Zero and took a short break from recovering bodies.
By November, Carpenter had stopped going back on volunteer shifts to Ground Zero.
“It was just so much,” he said.
“I didn’t go back down there – it’s just too depressing.”
In the years following, the men in his station tried to stay as long as they could, but now they’re all retired on disability.
Carpenter said he wishes he could still work as a firefighter, but he knows that 10 minutes into a call he would be wheezing.
“I see firefighters and fire trucks, and I really wish I could do that stuff,” Carpenter said.
“That’s the hardest part, is leaving all I really knew how to do behind.”
For now, Carpenter is focusing on treating his stress and finding that reason for his survival – the reason why the driver went the wrong way.
“I take a moment every day to reflect and be lucky I’m alive,” he said.