ROCK ISLAND, Illinois — It's not everyday one gets to talk to a firefighter who experienced September 11, 2001 from the streets of New York City. A firefighter, who could smell the smoke of the collapsed World Trade Center, who felt the pain of loss, of not only fellow Americans, but of friends.
"When we say, 'never forget', I think about it every single day," said Randy Lotz, who retired this year, after 22 years working for the New York City Fire Department.
Lotz is one of the volunteers who travel on the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit, a traveling museum created to honor Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who lost his life on 9/11. The exhibit is packed into a high-tech 53-foot tractor-trailer.
This is Lotz's third time traveling with the exhibit, which features significant artifacts pulled from the World Trade Center debris.
"Being here now, and speaking about this, is therapy for me," said Lotz, as he recalled moments of September 11, 2011. He responded after the second tower was hit.
His crew of firefighters got stuck in backed-up traffic at the mouth of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which connects Brooklyn and Manhattan.
"We never made it through because there were other rigs in front of us," said Lotz.
Instead, they got diverted onto the Brooklyn Bridge. That's when both towers came down.
"When I got to the other side, it was about 11:30 in the morning," said Lotz, who describes the day as being like an Armageddon.
Today, Lotz sees his travel with the 9-11 memorial, as therapeutic.
"Being a part of this exhibit, allows me to do something in a positive manner, instead of sitting home and feeling glum," he said.
"It's incredible, just seeing the pieces, just, makes me tear up," said Kristi Geisler, who stopped by the exhibit with her two daughters on Tuesday morning.
Geisler has always wanted to visit New York City and Ground Zero, she figures this exhibit, is the closest she may ever come to seeing it.
"I didn't know anybody in town but you know just being an American, it just gets you," said Geisler.
A group of Rock Island police officers and firefighters also walked through the exhibit on Tuesday morning.
"It was pretty moving for me, I remember that day clearly," said Chief Jeff Yerkey, Rock Island Fire Department.
When the planes, hijacked by al-Qaeda an extreme Islamic terrorist group, hit the World Trade Center, Yerkey was at home, getting ready for a lecture for a trauma class. It wasn't until he was at his lecture that everything came to a stop.
"They were watching the TVs. That's when they saw the collapse happen, that's when we knew it was a huge loss of life," said Chief Yerkey.
In total, 343 firefighters lost their life. One firefighter who was killed - Stephen Siller, the namesake of the Stephen Siller Tunnel of Towers Foundation. The foundation builds homes across the country for badly injured veterans.
Modern Woodmen of America is the sponsor of the 9-11 memorial exhibit. Admission onto the moving memorial is free to the public. Donations are welcome.
9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit is parked at Schwiebert Riverfront Park in Rock Island. Hours of admission are:
Tuesday, July 19, 9:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Wednesday, July 20, 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 21, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Friday, July 22, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 23, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.