POST FALLS - When Jerry Justis responded to Ground Zero, he figured it would take crews a year to clean up the rubble.
"It was just that scale and size," the Sandpoint man said.
Justis - who attended a Patriot Day ceremony in Post Falls on Tuesday that remembered those who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - was dispatched to New York 11 years ago with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help set up security during the aftermath of the tragedy.
As proud as he was in that role to help others, the Navy veteran said it came with a heavy cost.
Justis' lung capacity is at 27 percent - the direct result of breathing fumes and particulates around Ground Zero, he said.
"I thought that I had a chest cold after 88 days, but when I came home I found out that I had chemical pneumonia," he said.
Justis said that he had to wipe off his desk four times a day during his New York experience.
"You'd lay down a piece of paper and, 5 minutes later, it would be brown," said Justis, who arrived at Ground Zero seven days after the attacks.
Justis said that prior to 9/11 he had no health issues and his previous jobs required physicals.
"I never had any lung problems before," he said. "I was known as the 'Mountain Man' in Wallace and would throw a chainsaw over my shoulders and climb mountains."
Today, he's on oxygen and, while he continues to enjoy riding his motorcycle as part of the Patriot Guard Riders, fishing and hunting, he's slowed up considerably.
"I was told by a lung doctor that I'd die by 2005," he said. "They didn't know me well. I can't walk through the woods, but I'm not going to die in bed."
Justis said he is saddened that two others he was with during the 9/11 aftermath and had similar health issues have died.
Justis said he receives some medical assistance through the Department of Labor due to his condition, but was denied benefits through the Department of Justice. More funding, he said, wouldn't help his condition.
"It just keeps getting worse," he said.
Justis said he saw a lot of greed and injustice during the aftermath of the disaster.
"Items were stolen on the fire trucks and we even had to broaden our security zone to watch the freezer trucks," he said. "Looters, momento seekers, whackos ... "
He remembers 1,200 people a day lining up to receive financial assistance from 14 agencies that were set up in the same building.
Justis said he has bittersweet feelings on the anniversary Sept. 11.
"Of course I have regrets," he said. "My life has been taken from me. But I also know that I made a difference by helping people."
9/11 rescue manager to speak
POST FALLS - Retired Fire Chief John Norman, who was the search and rescue manager for the World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, will speak at a seminar for emergency service agencies and anyone interested from Friday to Sunday at the Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls.
The seminar, called "Fireground Command Operations," will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day. Cost is $30.
Some contents may not be suitable for children, so only adults can register. The event is hosted by the North Idaho Fire Chiefs Association.
Topics include trapped firefighter rescue, strip mall store fires, private dwelling fires and how to become a street-smart firefighter.
For more information, call Heath Sheppard at 777-8500.