9/11 fire commissioner: Sports stars aren't 'heroes'
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Former New York City Fire Commissioner Tom Von Essen, who led the fire department on 9/11, criticized the use of the word "hero" in popular culture and reflected on the true heroic acts of many of his firefighters during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

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"We had people who were safe out in the lobby who went back up to help other people. ... When you knowingly put yourself in harm's way like that, that's a heroic deed," Von Essen said in a radio interview with John Catsimatidis.
 
“To give that title to a sports figure or a politician or a businessman — it’s just sickening,” he said.
 
"And it happens every day. We see it in our military; we see it in the police risking their life every day to try and help us and now we are criticizing them when they make a mistake — it's outrageous."
 
The former commissioner also said that working during the Sept. 11 attacks 15 years ago was "just a blur," and that it was difficult to immediately comprehend that the city lost hundreds of firefighters.

"For me it just got worse as the days [after 9/11] went by, because we started to deal with the grief and the families and the pain and suffering that all of them went through. The operational side of it … was fine — dealing with all the phony politicians that came in to get pictures taken, that was all OK," he said.
 
"But for me it was the grief and looking at those folks and not being able to give them what they wanted. Not being able to give them back their loved ones. ... They wanted their loved ones back, and we couldn't do that."
 
Von Essen also said that he has been able to compartmentalize his life, which has helped him to cope with the loss of many of his colleagues. 
 
"When there is an event, when I look at some phony politician on TV using [9/11] to his advantage or trying, or her advantage, so it comes out all the time, but I am able to get it back in and have a normal life," he said. "I've been blessed to be lucky."