The Brockport Volunteer Fire Department located in a small village on the banks of the Erie Canal west of Rochester, NY drew record breaking crowds from the tri-county region for its 10th Annual Vigil. They seemed to come from near and far to pay their respects to the the many heroes that left us ten years ago. Just as the towers took the lives of 343 firefighters as they fell, so too they took the lives of Police Officers and EMT's, of Moms and Dads, and brothers and sisters whom would never be heard from again. And the taking didn't stop there, in New York City. They continued their short lived reign of terror down the coast as they took over a plane that was immediately downed in Pennsylvania and another crashing into the Pentagon. It was a scary day for most Americans.
However, we are not here to retell that story. No, indeed, we are not. What we are here to tell is how a Volunteer Fire Department has set in motion a tradition that seems to grow each year on the anniversary of that fateful day. We are not here to tell of the dead, as their story has been told many times over. And it will continue to be told by others. We are here to speak of the living; of the every day heroes found in our first responders, of the Moms and Dads and brothers and sisters who seem to find solace in spending time at the Monument each and every year on 9/11.
You have heard me speak of, and tell the tale of the creation of the Monument. You have seen that this Fire Department hosts its Vigil every year. Despite the similarities found annually, each year there is something different and each year there are many things the same.
There are three ceremonies. There are always three ceremonies. They are scheduled to allow for everyone in the community to be able to attend at least one of them. Each year at the opening ceremony, the grand 6'x10' American Flag is lowered to half staff. At the start of the ceremony it is proudly waving to passersby to announce: I am here, I am strong and I represent all that is good about this great land we live in. And, then, as soon as it is lowered to half-staff, it is almost like it has life of its own as it eerily droops and hangs sullenly throughout the day. It is like it is saying to all that come to share the day, "I am sorry about the lost heroes" while sharing our tribute with them.
At 8:47, the next tradition that has set in over time takes place. The Fire Department rings the memorial bell in true Fire Department of New York (FDNY) fashion. The bell tolls 5-5-5-5, as it always has when a firefighter is killed in the line of duty in the Big Apple. They are proud to ring it, and all uniformed personnel stop whatever they are doing and salute the flag on the leaning pole. This year, the flag on that pole has special significance to all that shared the day, and that brings us to the first of several "family" stories.
This writer grew up in this department and one of the old time favorites was an old family friend in Company 3 - the Protectives. He moved from the area long ago, but before he did, they gave his Dad, a past Chief, his final ride on his firetruck. Well as families go, his Dad was a Chief and his son is now a career firefighter. But on his way to his current job, his son stopped off as part of the civilian firefighting force in Fallujah, Iraq. While there, he requested an American flag be flown in honor of the Brockport Fire Department, and they did. The flag on the Monument on 9/11/11 was flown over the Fallujah Fire Department on 9/11/06 at the request of Lieutenant Ryan Wheeler, son of former BFD Lieutenant Gerald Wheeler, and grandson of Past Chief Hub Wheeler. The department was honored to receive this flag and to fly it proudly on the anniversary.