Vinny Timmons’ life was forever changed by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Through loss and grief, the Farmingdale local found his way to healing powers of song and hopes to encourage others to find their peace when faced with panic.
Timmons began his career not in firefighting but construction. Following the loss of his father, who had been a New York City Fireman, Timmons joined some friends with the local volunteer service in 1987. This would be a surprising and influential time in his life. “I did that for a number of years – loved it, great people – it was a very developmental time in my life. I grew a lot as a person, meeting these guys who ran into fires… I never knew what it was all about.” Timmons took the FDNY test and the physical in the late ‘80s, sat on things for a while, and finally joined officially in early 1994.
“I was assigned to Engine 8, which is on 51st Street in Manhattan.” A lucky sign, said Timmons, as his father’s favorite number was 8. “I got to meet some of the nicest guys in the world, put aside the firefighting, just what great guys I met. One of them was my good friend Rob Parro from Levittown. I was assigned with him to alternate tours; I’d relieve him of duty and vice versa.” Their friendship soon turned into a work relationship, doing side projects together, spending family times and vacations together.
Timmons said this was not an uncommon occurrence and had a lot of praise to offer the brotherhood he experienced. “The bonding that went on in that firehouse was just incredible. What I thought the fire service was all about was not even close to what it really was. Yes, there were times when we got the alarm and went into these fires, it was scary. But you always felt like your brother had your back. Any normal person would be scared, looking at everything that’s daunting to you, but they don’t know that the brotherhood really changes the way you perceive going into that fire.”
Timmons’ life was soon destined to change, however, alongside thousands of Americans, during the September 11 terrorist attacks. “On that day I had been on vacation. I woke up and found out that a plane had hit one of the towers. I thought it was just a small plane that maybe went off course or had problems. I drove into Manhattan to meet with my firemen friends there, and that’s when I learned that my friend Rob had taken a shift with the truck.” Inside the firehouse, there is an engine company, a truck company, and a chief. “Rob was assigned to the engine,” Timmons said, “but he took a shift with the truck, so he was down at the World Trade Center. Of course, I had hopes that he would come back, but as we later learned… we lost ten of our brothers from the firehouse. It took a great toll on me.”
But it took several years before this toll made itself apparent. “I didn’t even know until six or seven years later, because there was so much going on in the firehouse. So many people helping you from all over. The help we received from all over the world was phenomenal… For years, it kept us busy and kept our minds off of what had happened.” Timmons said that he started getting headaches and couldn’t sleep because of nightmares. “I didn’t put it all together, but I was suffering from panic attacks.” He started to learn more about anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. “It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I could no longer do my job. In 2014, I finally left the firehouse, and it was rough for a couple of years. I needed to figure out what I was going to do, what was going to be the next phase of my life.”
During this time, a close friend of Timmons who worked in radio was talking with him about what he was going through. He mentioned to his friend that he had written some words down but did not know what to do with them. “I told him that I had written some words and I didn’t know what to do with them. He mentioned that one of his friends was a very talented musician, and he wanted me to go speak with him. Maybe we could make it an outlet for some of the stress I was going through. So, I went to see this musician, Jack Licitra. I gave him the words and he put it to music. He told me to sing… so that’s how my song Septembers Friends was created.”
“Septembers Friends” was Timmons’ debut song, and while it specifically addresses his feelings towards the terrorist attack, much of Timmons’ music tells other stories. Most important to Timmons is addressing the horrible experience of post-traumatic stress. “It doesn’t just affect people from 9/11, it affects everybody! More people go to the hospital for anxiety than they do for heart attacks. The mental part of this… it’s so overpowering, it affects your whole body. So I dedicated myself to not just write the song for those who had experienced 9/11, but other songs for people of all walks of life.”
He was eventually able to return to the workforce and found himself – in a full circle moment – testing out fire products for firefighters in Farmingdale. Timmons works with retired firemen and volunteer firefighters, having found his way back to the industry he used to love.
His journey has been an unexpected one, but Timmons stresses that things can and do get better. “You don’t ever get over anxiety, or panic, or post-traumatic stress, you learn to deal with it, to give yourself outlets. And you do heal,” he vows. “That’s not to say I don’t have bad days like anybody else does, but the silver lining is there’s ways to pick yourself back up and get to a place where you can enjoy life again.”
Timmons hopes to encourage others to find their outlets for healing, whatever they may be, and to recognize that having an outlet is not only helpful but necessary for recovery. “The body is funny. There’s stress inside the soul, and if you don’t find ways to relieve it, it can be devastating. To not only you but the people around you.”
For his part, singing has truly allowed Timmons to jumpstart his recovery and helped him to move forward. “That’s where I find my healing, that I can reach out and tell a story, but I can also add the music to it. And I can tell people there’s something in everything that we see. Whatever we can do to highlight this and say, ‘Nobody is forgetting. Nobody is going to forget.’”