Editor's Note: To mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Golden Valley Patch is sharing the stories of a few local residents uniquely impacted by the tragedy. We've also linked to the Huffington Post's national 9/11 photo project, as well as coverage from other Minnesota Patch sites.
"Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?" That question probably has been asked millions of times over the past decade.
Two current were more than 4,000 miles away from each other on that day. Tim Gerrits was in Finland, touring a company that specializes in sheet metal-working technology. Jenny Toavs was at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Gerrits is a captain with the Golden Valley Fire Department. He has worked there for more than 20 years.
Toavs is a firefighter for Golden Valley and the MSP Airport. She has been a Golden Valley firefighter for 13 years.
She and her other airport firefighters had just ended their morning meeting. "One of the firefighters came out of the computer room and he said, 'A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.' … And so he turned it on and we were just, like, 'Holy cats!'"
Gerrits and a group of businessmen were heading to a traditional Finnish dinner and sauna on a bus. Their bus driver was the first one to tell them what was going on in America.
When the group arrived at the resort, "many of us stood around the 10-inch TV and watched what was going on. We could not understand any of what was being said but the pictures told a 1,000 words."
As the dramatic events of the day continued to unfold, Toavs and her fellow airport personnel watched as aircraft that had never been at the airport before began to land. "Korean Air had 757s and we put those at the Humphrey Terminal," she said.
In Finland, Gerrits said some of the people who were on the tour with him had relatives in New York. They wanted to leave and were able to go back to the hotel.
"The rest of the group tried to make the best of it because these people had been preparing this event for days and were really putting on a great party for us," he said.
Yet planes were grounded and they weren't able to head home.
"We made the best of it by exploring the city of Vaasa, playing a lot of cards and fishing," Gerrits said. "The city of Vaasa is a college town and the people we ran into mostly were college kids who got to use their English maybe for the first time on Americans.
"They offered moral support and really wanted us to know that they thought America was a great country and they felt our loss," he said.
They were able to leave Vaasa on Sept 20, a week after they had expected to fly out.
At the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on Sept. 11, Toavs said passengers who disembarked grounded planes headed to hotels.
"The days and week or two following … It just got spooky quiet. Really, really weird. Very odd," she said. "There wasn't anyone working on the ramp, loading luggage or taking care of the aircraft. There was nobody out there. It was like a ghost town."
The terrorist attacks affected security at the airport immediately, Toavs said. Though they work at the airport and have been through security checks, the firefighters were subject to the same searches as everyone else.
"We were scrutinized like you wouldn't believe—we still are scrutinized," she said. If they respond to a call on the unsecured side of the security checkpoint and then find out instead it's on the secured side, they have to be searched.
At checkpoints, Transportation Security Administration officers have confiscated two of the knives Toavs uses for her job. She said the firefighters now try to find alternative ways around the airport so they don't have to go through security if they have to respond to an emergency
"At work nothing has changed," she said of post-9/11. "It just actually got harder for us."
Ten years later, she said, "it's just a terrible, terrible thing and there were a lot of lessons learned."
Some of the beneficial effects of the terrorist attacks are Homeland Security free training programs and departments becoming more aware of critical incident management and "keeping their people physically and mentally healthy," Toavs said.
"In this line of work, you gotta always keep learning. And I think 9/11 showed us that—that you can get complacent. They're gonna always find some way to get around things and you gotta be on your toes."
More Sept. 11 stories from Minnesota Patches:
Eagan: Eagan Resident Mike Ferber Hopes Memories of 9/11 Won’t Fade
Eagan City Administrator Tom Hedges Reflects on 9/11
Edina: Retired Army Vet Spurred to Re-Enlist Following 9/11 Attacks
Fridley: Demand Soared for Speakers on Islam after 9/11
Inver Grove Heights: VFW Commander: Sept. 11 Changed the Country
Lake Minnetonka: Remembering Wayzata Native Gordy Aamoth
Lakeville: Lakeville VFW Post Manager's Wife Working at Pentagon on Sept. 11
Maple Grove: 9/11: A Day of Respect for Maple Grove Resident
Maple Grove Fire Chief Shares Memories of 9/11
United to Help Maple Grove Service Members
Minnetonka: 9/11 Memories From a Former New Yorker
Mendota Heights: Retired Mendota Heights Pilot Recalls ‘Paradigm Shift’
Northfielder Will Never Forget His Birthday in Iraq
Oakdale: Terror and Joy Came Together for Oakdale Family
Post-9/11 World Meant Three Years Away From Family for Local Guardsman
Richfield: 9/11 Aftermath: Richfield Couple Waits for Possible Deployment
St. Louis Park: 9/11 Attacks Made Being Muslim ‘More Difficult’
Woodbury: Woodbury Resident, NYC Native Recalls 9/11