LOWER MANHATTAN — First responders who rushed to the burning World Trade Center 10 years ago visited the new 9/11 Memorial for the first time Tuesday morning.
With heads bowed and rain drenching their uniforms, the firefighters and police officers walked slowly along the edge of the memorial's cavernous waterfalls, searching out the carved bronze names of their lost friends and colleagues.
Juana Lomi, an emergency medical technician who was caught in the collapse of the towers, fought back tears as she recalled her fellow paramedics who did not make it out alive.
"Even though it's very painful to be here, we need to [have] a place to be with the people we lost," said Lomi, an Inwood resident.
"Just looking at all these names — [it's] extremely touching."
Tuesday marked the start of "First Responder Days" at the 9/11 Memorial, seven days this fall during which the memorial will be open solely to first responders so they can reflect quietly without being surrounded by crowds of tourists.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano opened Tuesday's responder day by paying their respects at a somber, wordless wreath-laying ceremony.
As bagpipes played "Amazing Grace," representatives of the NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority Police Department placed a wreath of red, white and blue carnations at the corner of the memorial's south waterfall.
The responders then dispersed across the memorial plaza, a few breaking down as they wiped rain drops from the bronze panels bearing the names of their friends.
"The people that responded here together should have some time together to reflect on what happened 10 years ago," Cassano said after the ceremony.
"We were all in battle together…. It's important for us to all be here together."
While 9/11 family members got their first look at the memorial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks earlier this month, first responders had to wait until Tuesday for a dedicated time when they could mourn as a group.
Some of the responders said they didn't mind having to wait, but others said Tuesday that they were still upset about being left out.
"I think we should have been given the chance to be here on the first day," said retired NYPD Lt. Jim Scully, 49, from Rockland County.
Scully, who responded to Ground Zero on 9/11, said it was overwhelming to be back at the site of the attacks.
"It's a good feeling, but it feels a little strange," Scully said. "It's a chance to reflect on the memories."