Friends united by tragedy remeber 9/11 16 years later

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Like any good friends, Daniel Hoffe and Garrett Lindgren look forward to spending time together, catching up and celebrating life.

That's especially important to them, given the horrific events that led to their bond in the first place.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, planes slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City. Lindgren was working as a firefighter with the Rescue 3 Squad at the time.

"I was listening to the radio and they broke in that there was a fire at the World Trade Center and I had a perfect view of the towers and I could see that the North Tower was seriously damaged. It appeared that there was some type of explosion," said Lindgren.

At that time, Hoffe was attending a training session for work on the 61st floor of the South Tower.

"I saw fire and burning debris beneath us and our fire alarm went off and they said, 'Everyone get your personal stuff and head to the stairwells,' and I said, 'Forget my personal stuff, we gotta get out of here,'" Hoffe recalled.

Meanwhile, Lindgren was on his way to the scene.

"We ran into some delays on the way down. Traffic was bad and it was kind of tough to maneuver. Looking back now, that probably saved us," said Lindgren.

In the South Tower, Hoffe was making his way down to safety. But his fate suddenly became more uncertain.

"We got to the 10th floor. We heard World Trade Center One had been hit. I remember thinking, 'Thank God we're in South Tower,' and literally five to 10 seconds later that second plane hit," said Hoffe.

Hoffe went into survival mode. He teamed up with a stranger to get out and survive. At one point on their way down, they passed firefighters heading up the stairwell.

"I can still remember their faces, like part of me will be in that stairwell and I remember them going up and the determination and bravery in their eyes," said Hoffe.

It may have been the first connection with Lindgren, though they had not yet met.

"He kind of teared up when he told me that he was passing a lot of our guys on the way up the stairs when he was on his way out of the building," said Lindgren.

Lindgren arrived on the scene to zero visibility.

"All we could hear was what we call pass devices. They are alarm systems on firefighters' breathing apparatus and those are triggered when a firefighter is unable to move. I called my wife to say goodbye and I told her that a lot of us are going to die there," said Lindgren.

He lost more than 60 of his firefighting brothers, including eight from Rescue 3. Lindgren wears a tribute on his arm: A bracelet with the name of each member of his squad etched in silver.

The loss hasn't stopped 16 years later.

"I've lost friends since 9/11 due to their exposure to all those toxins and I found out just the other day another NYC  firefighter passed away and I believe he was number 160 in the list of firefighters who have died of cancer from 9/11," said Lindgren. 

Lindgren and Hoffe want to make sure those lives lost weren't in vain. Hoffe has been part of a fundraising effort to buy 10 jaws of life for Sarasota firefighters in the hopes of saving other lives.

Lindgren inspired his son to follow in his father's firefighting footsteps. Both Hoffe and Lindgren regularly speak to groups about their experience and participate in September 11 events.

Their paths crossed during one ceremony a few years ago.

"It's a little success story out of that terrible day," said Lindgren.

"I just want to make sure people never forget," said Hoffe.