Former NYPD officer, now with Naples police, recounts personal experience on 9/11

Nearly two decades have passed, but for many of us, the images from the 9/11 terrorist attacks are etched in our memories forever.

It’s one of the moments in history where you recall exactly what you were doing when you heard the news.

WINK News Safety and Security Specialist Rich Kolko relived that moment with a former New York City officer beginning exactly 19 years ago.

Sept. 10 was a late night for Sean Phillips, a New York City police officer assigned to the highway patrol unit. He drove the police chaplain home.

“I passed the towers and he said to me, ‘Sean, there’s a fabulous restaurant in there. One day we’ll have to go there,'” Phillips said. They never got the chance.”

Officer Sean Phillips when he was a member of the NYPD. (Provided to WINK News)

“I was woken the next morning by our roll call personnel who said a plane had hit the first tower and I needed to come in,” he said. “While I was responding from home, that’s when the second plane hit the tower. We were all hoping when the first plane hit it was an accident, it was a mistake. Once that second plane hit we knew it wasn’t. As we were heading in, we could see the smoke, we could see the flames on the Belt Parkway in the Bronx Expressway and when we eventually got through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel it was just surreal.”

Surreal. People scared, a city in chaos. He went right in to work.

“Both buildings were down and when we got there, we could park nowhere near the site. We had to park in the south part of Manhattan. We walked the rest of the way,” Phillips said.

When I speak about 9/11, certain things seem as clear as if was yesterday, others seem as if they were 100 years ago.

“Supervisors were attempting to account for their personnel, we were finding there were people who were unaccounted for and at that point, we began our recovery efforts and our rescue efforts which was very difficult because of the fires, because of the smoke,” Phillips said. “It was a very difficult time.”

LINK9/11 Memorial & Museum

Phillips lost a lot of friends that day and paid a personal price. Then, in 2013, he started working for the Naples Police Department.

“We just moved to Florida, everything was great and I went for my yearly screening and my doctor told me, have a seat,” he said.

Cancer. Fortunately, it was treatable. Now, Phillips shares his 9/11 story with students.

I want them to know what happened. I want them to be educated on that day.

“It was very personal, that’s our city, our country, it was very personal. As members of the NYPD, we knew we needed to do whatever we had to do to protect our city and our country as well,” Phillips explained. “It’s a difficult day. It’s something that will live with us forever.”

Officer Sean Phillips educates students on the events of 9/11. (Provided to WINK News)

“It means a lot to me that 19 years later, people haven’t forgotten,” he said, looking at the monument in Naples.

While 9/11 is now 19 years in the pst, many first responders are still dealing with the after-effects and Phillips is one of them. He is one of over 11,000 first responders whose cancer was attributed to working at one of the three crash sites.

Reporter:Rich Kolko
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