Muskoka chaplain remembers being at ground zero after terror attacks

For more than two decades, Tom Brown has dedicated his time to helping support firefighters and their families who want to talk.

"[Firefighters] see a lot of things that normal people wouldn't see, and sometimes that sticks with them," Brown said.

Brown is a chaplain at the Huntsville/Lake of Bays fire departments, a volunteer position he holds simply because he cares.

"I know the title chaplain makes some people think you have to be religious, but a chaplain takes a sworn oath to help anybody."

While he's helped many people along the way, there is one event, in particular, that's stuck with him.

"It was a couple of years before I could really talk about it," Brown said.

Three months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, Brown found himself at ground zero.

"I went to my first training to be a chaplain, and they asked anyone there if they wanted to go to New York because they were setting up for people to go, and I said 'sure that sounds great," Brown said. "I learned as much in two weeks as I probably would have in two to three years because everything was happening so suddenly."

He spent two weeks working at a feeding station across the street, supplying food and water to everyone on the ground.

"My shift was from 3:00 p.m. until 11:00 at night, so I got to visit all the fire halls during the day before I started my shift," Brown said.

During that time, Brown was always on duty, hearing stories of horrors and tragedies from those on the front.

"I can remember firefighters - it's called the 'finger detail," Brown said. "When there is an explosion like that, people lose their fingers, and they had to go and pick up all these body parts that really affected them."

Even though 20 years have passed, the stories and images still linger to this day.

"Knowing what they faced charging into those buildings in the shape that they were in, without regard for their own safety, it's what we all aspire to," said Huntsville/Lake of Bays Fire Chief Rob Collins.

Brown says he hopes to one day go back and visit ground zero, but for now, the 67-year-old said he's focusing on the job he truly loves.

"I may retire sometime, but right now it's in my cards," Brown said.