Steven Hintze hadn't planned on retiring from the FDNY when he did in 2006. But doctors said Hintze – then 42, a nonsmoker who enjoyed running – had the lungs of a 65-year-old smoker. His lung capacity had diminished by a third: the result, he said, of 9/11.
Hintze was slated to work on the political action side of the FDNY union that day, encouraging people to get out and vote. But as soon as the planes hit the towers, he and his colleagues at Engine 313 in Douglaston, Queens, rushed to the scene.
"We were trying to figure out a way to get the water to fight the fires that were raging, especially in building seven," he said. "We were also doing a lot of searching. Searching not only in the rubble, but also the roofs of buildings, trying to find anyone who may have survived."
He lost friends, fellow firefighters with whom he'd served on previous assignments. He gained vivid memories of the destruction of 9/11. He lost his lung capacity and gained asthma.
"I’ll never get better from that," said Hintze, who has a background in construction. "I can’t do any kind of job that will put me near any kind of dust or debris. I have scar tissue all throughout my lungs."
So a change of career was in order, too. Hintze retired from the FDNY in 2006 as a captain after 20 years of service, and today, he is an MBA student at Stony Brook University who hopes to own his own business or run a company someday soon.
Hintze, a 20-year resident of Setauket, said 9/11 has also made him more aware of how he goes about life in general.
"I was someone who could get lost in focusing on one thing," he said. "It made you stop and say make sure you smell the roses. Try to let things roll off your shoulders a little easier rather than getting bogged down with things you realize are ridiculous."