9/11 fire chief arrives in McAllen to offer first responder training

Joseph Pfeifer greets several firefighters after arriving at the McAllen International Airport on Sunday, Sept.29, 2019 in McAllen. Pfeifer was the Chief of Counterterrorism and Emergency Preparedness for the New York Fired Department. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor

Retired FDNY Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Pfeifer was greeted at the McAllen Miller International Airport Sunday afternoon by a water salute and a contingent of local firefighters.

Pfeifer will be the keynote speaker at the Proactive Education for Emergency Responders Annual Safety & Wellness Summit in McAllen this week, speaking about his leadership experience as the first chief through the doors of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Pfeifer, who set up a command post in the north tower lobby during the attack, retired last year after 37 years of service with the department. He also served during Hurricane Sandy and helped make ebola response plans in the city.

Pfeifer says the warm welcome at the airport made him feel right at home.

“I loved it. The water was being sprayed all over the plane and it made me feel like I was at home,” he said. “It was just a wonderful welcome to McAllen.”

Pfeifer says he’ll be drawing on his experiences in his speech to help local first responders look to the future.

“I’ll be talking about 9/11, my experience, but instead of just looking back, I’ll be looking forward,” he said. “What did I learn from that day? What does it mean for leaders in this community, as well as in the community of New York? How do we lead during large scale events, whether it’s a terrorist event or it’s a natural disaster?”

According to Pfeifer, the wellbeing of first responders is of paramount importance.

“Our safety is important,” he said. “Unless we can take care of our first responders, we’re never gonna be available to take care of anybody else, so that message and the message of this P.E.E.R. summit is important. We need to figure out how to manage large scale events and also take care of ourselves.”

McAllen Fire Department Deputy Chief Juan Gloria says the summit’s organizers are proud to feature someone as renowned as Pfeifer at the program.

“Chief Pfeifer is an individual that represents somebody that everybody in the fire service looks up to,” he said. “Through fundraising, through corporate sponsorships, through in-kind contributions to the organization, we’re able to bring individuals of the caliber of chief Pfeifer to speak to our first responders and send a message of health and safety.”

Gloria said at least 200 individuals from several departments are expected to attend the three-day summit.

“Our target audience is firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, communications personnel, and we want to make sure that we provide good, high quality training, in this case free of charge at this event,” he said. “We’re gonna have great speakers and we’re looking forward to having as many first responders as possible at this particular event.”