As Firehouse Sees It: “We Didn’t Need an Invitation The First Time”

“W e weren’t a block awaY the first time and I don’t think we’ll be a block away the second time.” Those words were spoken by Captain Al Hagan, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, the union that represents 2,450 lieutenants, captains, battalion chiefs, deputy chiefs, medical officers and supervising fire marshals in the FDNY, recalling Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. Captain Hagan was speaking about the exclusion of firefighters, police officers, EMS personnel and other groups of people who responded on 9/11 to help in a variety of ways from the 10th anniversary ceremonies at the World Trade Center site. His remarks were made to a TV reporter who asked whether the group would mind standing a block away from the site and watching the ceremonies on a large video monitor.

Because of the ongoing construction at the site, the area needed for the large gathering of families of those killed could not accommodate the addition of thousands of emergency responders. Many firefighters were upset by the decision. One from out of state who worked at the site asked me to call the mayor of New York City to protest. Firefighters, being innovative and clever, had another idea. For the past 10 years, led by the chiefs, officers and firefighters of the six companies assigned to the FDNY’s 18th Battalion (Engine 45, Ladder 58, Engine 88, Ladder 38, Engine 48 and Ladder 56), thousands of FDNY firefighters, officers and chiefs have met at the Firemen’s Memorial in Riverside Park at West 100th Street in Manhattan. It is the site of the FDNY memorial service held each Oct. 12, the date in 1966 when 12 firefighters were killed in a basement fire on 23rd Street in Manhattan.

On Sept. 11, 2011, the 18th Battalion commander, Chief John J. Salka Jr., was the master of ceremonies for this year’s 10th anniversary of 9/11. Thousands of firefighters, officers, chiefs and staff chiefs, along with families of firefighters killed in the line of duty, assembled at the memorial. Officers from the firefighters and officers unions were in attendance. Thousands of firefighters from around the country, including at least 300 from California, also were there, joined by hundreds of firefighters from around the world. Moments of silence marked the times when the first planes hit and when the buildings fell. Members of the 18th Battalion read the names of the 343 firefighters killed at Box 8087, World Trade Center, on 9/11/01. A wreath was laid. A band played and children sang. Respectfully, those who died in the line of duty were remembered with honor and dignity.

The following is sculpted into the back of the Firemen’s Memorial:

To the Men of the Fire Department

Of The City of New York

Who Died At The Call Of Duty

Soldiers In A War That Never Ends

This Memorial Is Dedicated

By The People Of A Grateful City

Dedicated September 5, 1913

Ceremonies also were held at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA, to commemorate the 10th anniversary. At the same time, across the nation and around the world, emergency services personnel and civilians alike gathered at fire stations, parks and government facilities to pause for a few minutes to remember, dedicate a piece of steel or reflect on a day the world will never forget.

The FDNY recently unveiled a monument in headquarters listing the names of 55 members, including EMS personnel, who have died of illnesses linked to the World Trade Center attack and their work at the site in the months afterward. Right after 9/11, someone mentioned that because of the dangerous substances firefighters and others had to breathe while operating at the site, the death toll in coming years could far exceed those killed during the initial attacks. Never forget.

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