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Rescue workers from September 11 carry flags at the "Prayer for America" service held at Yankee Stadium.

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Photo of a fire truck
A fireman's funeral procession following September 11. Nearly a year later, funerals have yet to be held for some of the 343 firefighters lost last fall.

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A year after the worst terrorist attack in United States history, Thirteen/WNET New York presents a candid account of the firefighters in two New York City firehouses as they struggle to cope in the aftermath of the tragedy. The 65 Middagh Street firehouse in Brooklyn (Engine 205, Ladder 118) lost eight men in the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center and the West 31st Street firehouse in Manhattan (Engine 1, Ladder 24) lost six.

In the days that followed, the eyes of the world were on New York. Filmmaker Katharine English turned her cameras on what she saw, capturing the emotions at the center of the rescue and recovery effort. Her revealing documentary, HEROES OF GROUND ZERO, is being presented nationally by Thirteen on Monday, September 9, 2002, at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). The film is dedicated to the memory of the 343 firefighters who died in the attack.

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For some it's been a learning experience, for others, the worst year of their life. New York firefighters discuss the aftermath of September 11.
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According to Stephen Segaller, executive-in-charge for Thirteen, the documentary, most of which was filmed during the initial weeks after the attack, is powerful for its sense of immediacy and raw emotion.

"As we approach the first anniversary of that terrible day, it's important to remember the courage and resolve shown by the firefighters who risked and lost their lives at Ground Zero. Their example inspired us all to come together and rebuild our city and our lives," Segaller said. "HEROES OF GROUND ZERO reminds us of the strength and resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of unprecedented tragedy."

Throughout the film, dozens of personal stories are told candidly and emotionally by the firefighters themselves. Frank Ocello tries to articulate what it was like to survive the collapse of the South Tower. His words paint a vivid picture of chaotic, violent moments giving way to a dark, eerie landscape of smoke and rubble. Steve Wojciechowski recalls crying when he found out about the death of Mychal Judge, the fire department's chaplain.

Other firefighters in the midst of making arrangements for an unprecedented number of funerals and memorial services pause for a moment to share feelings of disbelief, pain, and anger. A number of the men appear utterly defeated as they talk about retiring as soon as possible from a career that, to them, had once been a calling or vocation. Family members still hope that a miracle will bring their missing loved ones home. New Yorkers rally to support the efforts of the city's bravest.

Updated segments filmed this summer, shortly before the anniversary of the attack, are incorporated into the beginning and end of the documentary, in which the true depth of the firefighters' commitment to their work is made clear. For them, it has been a year of unimaginable devastation and gradual healing. In the update interviews, they describe finding the remains of some of their colleagues at Ground Zero. Most who had previously talked about leaving the Fire Department have changed their minds, reaffirming their love of the job and their essential character as firefighters.

At its core, HEROES OF GROUND ZERO is an inspiring portrait of the large, extended family that is the New York City Fire Department - facing its greatest challenge ever and putting a human face on history.

HEROES OF GROUND ZERO is produced and directed by Katharine English and updated by Roger Sherman. Executive-in-charge for Thirteen/WNET New York is Stephen Segaller. Funding provided by PBS and public television viewers.

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