But 12 months ago, they weren't icons. They were regular guys, commuters mainly, men with mortgages and lawn mowers.
What's also been forgotten is that they were survived not only by wives and children, siblings and parents but by thousands of guys just like them. Other firefighters who made it through that day downtown, or who never got there. Bob Simon reports.
60 Minutes II spent time this past year at Ladder 3, where they lost 12 men - half its members. The planes hit the World Trade Center right in the middle of a shift change and many of those lost from Ladder 3 weren't even on duty.
Eight-year veteran Mike Moran wasn't working that day, but he wanted to be there. He raced in to the Trade Center from his home in Rockaway Beach but got caught in traffic. Imagine owing your life to a traffic jam.
He doesn't consider himself lucky: "Far from lucky, I think. I mean - not lucky that I survived - I'm lucky that I knew all those guys. Some people go through their entire lives without working with the caliber of guys that I knew before Sept. 11."
One of the guys he knew and lost that day was his brother John, a Battalion Chief. "I pictured us living side by side in the same neighborhood for the rest of our lives. And that's - that's gone now. I do look at it that I was lucky to have him," Moran says.
The nights and the days after the attack became a muddle of searching and talking and crying. Tears shed by men who before Sept. 11 did not do a lot of crying. Steve Browne was the surviving senior officer.
"Just waking up every morning and being like - this is not a dream, you know and you have your morning cry and then you do what you gotta do - you know? And before you know the memorials and the funerals started and that was just a whole 'nother thing on its own," says Browne.
The men who died left 16 children behind - 16 children and wives, brothers, sisters, parents. Ask anyone who's ever lost an arm or a leg... For a long time, you feel its still there. That's how the men of Ladder 3 felt about their lost brothers.
"I think about them all the time. I think they pull up in my driveway in a car and they they all are in a car. I'll be cutting my lawn, be driving, cutting my lawn and I'm thinking about these guys, going through my head - why am I here and they're gone," says 15-year veteran Jerry Brenkert.
Jimmy Wind spent 20 years at Ladder 3. He says he misses some of the little things, like playing foosball with Timmy McSweeney, a father of two.
Says Wind: "Timmy and a bunch of the guys would play and as they would score Timmy would always let out a yell. You know, sometimes you almost think you hear that once in a while – 'Whoooo.' You know, nobody's been playing it - it's got quite a bit of dust on it now."
Mike Moran's firefighter father died when Mike was a teen-ager. Mike's brother, John, became his new father figure. And now he was gone too.
"I remember him telling me on the phone one night that whenever he closed his eyes. all he could say was 'I lost my brother.' That was hard, hearing that from him," says Peggy Moran, Mike's mother.
Brothers cannot be replaced. But replacements had to be found for the men who died at Ladder 3. There was work to do. Replacements were needed, but not necessarily wanted.
Brenkert didn't want to see any new faces: "And it seemed like, you know, it was tough to come by - kind of to lose 12 guys in a firehouse and all of a sudden, a couple of new guys, and I didn't like it. So, maybe I was tough on 'em. I was angry - these guys are gone and I had a lot of hate in me. A lot of hate and anger."
"You just kinda kept to yourself in the beginning," says Jerry Perrillo, a probie assigned to Ladder 3.
The remains of only two men from Ladder 3 were recovered by November. With no bodies to bury, they had memorial services for the 10 others - the last one for Captain Paddy Brown. Brown was a Fire Department legend. His specialty: pulling people out of burning buildings. Firefighters heard him reporting on Sept. 11 that Ladder 3 was trying to rescue people somewhere around the 40th floor of the north tower.
Says Moran: "Paddy had pretty detailed instructions if he should ever die in a fire what he wanted done. He had his place in Central Park picked out where he wanted his ashes spread. And his brother Mike was kind of disappointed that we hadn't found his body, that we couldn't fulfill this - it seemed like his only real wish, like what he wanted done. So the next best compromise he felt was if we could plant a tree in his honor. So, we kind of had a stealth mission in the middle of the night, to go plant a tree."
Moran thought that after that, he could begin trying to return to routine. But the bodies of their comrades began turning up late in November.
"And we started all over again," says Brenkert. "The funeral. You'd have a wake, then a funeral and a burial and it started all over again."
You simply don't come out of something like this unchanged. For some of the survivors of Ladder 3, the change was not only psychological or spiritual. Some of the men were moved to change the facts of their lives.
"I've since separated from my wife, and I'm looking to have a better quality of life for myself," says Wind. "Now after this it makes me realize how precious life is and what a short time that we have on this earth."
Others went about it another way. Lieutenant Steve Browne remembers sitting with Mike Moran in the wreckage on the night of Sept. 12, talking about Mike's girlfriend, Donna…
"Mike started talking about how much Donna meant to him and how she's been great," Browne says. "We said some really nice things. And I kind of said, 'You should marry that girl' - and he kind of looked at me and said – 'I'm gonna.'"
That marriage was the first time in a year that the men of Ladder 3 had gotten together for a happy occasion. And it was, at least in part.
"When I danced with my mother, and she said something along the lines of – 'Oh your brother would love this' - and that was pretty much - we were both in tears after that," says Moran.
And then summer came. While grief counselors were still filing into the firehouse, the best therapy seemed to be doing what they'd always done: fighting fires.
The guys started paying attention to the new guys, too. Perrillo says that the veterans became friendlier.
Brenkert says a brother of one of the fallen firefighters gave him some good advice: "You gotta let it go. I mean, it's not their fault - it's not the new guys' fault. They're there and these guys are gone."
One year after the fall, the heat is beginning to pass. The colors beginning to change.
"Every time you think about something now with the passage of time, it's not all sad now," says Moran. "It's not just that shock that they're gone. And it's - you're starting to remember them with a smile on your face - instead of being sad all the time."