Schaumburg firefighter who volunteered for 9/11 response named Itasca chief

Battalion Chief John Schneidwind - one of three members of the Schaumburg Fire Department who traveled to the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack - is retiring from the department this week after 34 years to become chief of the Itasca Fire Protection District.

Schneidwind received his retirement plaque from Schaumburg Mayor Tom Dailly at last week's village board meeting and will shortly begin his new service in neighboring Itasca.

For the past 20 years, Schneidwind has frequently been called upon to share memories of his five fateful days in New York City and how his perspective on them has changed over time.

In September 2001, he had two young children at home who'd ask him when he was going to return every time they spoke on the phone.

Today, he is a grandfather.

Volunteering for the trip started with him being asked to work his supervisor's shifts in Schaumburg so that the supervisor could go to New York. Schneidwind instead asked whether there was room for him to go along as well.

He said a large part of his motivation to join firefighters from across the nation at ground zero was the notion that they were taking part in a rescue mission, not just a recovery.

During one all-too-brief moment, he felt that wish might be fulfilled. He came upon a huge celebration and cheers of "USA, USA!" after four firefighters were pulled alive from the rubble. But he later learned they had become trapped only earlier that day and were not part of the original collapse.

Schneidwind said that people he and his fellow volunteers would pass on the street would enthusiastically thank them, while clergy members would ask them how they were feeling. Their response was always that everyone was OK, even though they weren't, he said.

By the end of the trip, Schneidwind said he was drained both emotionally and physically, but also deeply proud of his profession.

"I left New York with a new sense of purpose," he said.

And now another chapter of his firefighting career begins as chief of a department just next door to the one where he spent a third of a century.

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