Friday morning Fire Dept. ceremony recalls 9/11, thanks our first responders
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – After several days of rain, Friday brought a beautiful cloudless morning – blue skies, a light breeze, bright sun – much like that fateful morning ten years ago, Sept. 11, 2001, when America lost her innocence. On that day, lest anyone need be reminded, the World Trade Center towers in New York City were destroyed by two hijacked jetliners, a hole was punched in the Pentagon and brave passengers of a third airliner lost their lives as they wrested control of the craft from terrorists and plummeted into a field in Pennsylvania.
In remembrance of that day and as a tribute to the emergency first responders – here and everywhere -- who put themselves on the front line every day, the Town of Fairfield dedicated a piece of a steel I-beam retrieved from the World Trade Center, at the Fairfield Fire Dept., 140 Reef Road. An official ceremony was led by Fairfield Fire Chief Dick Felner, who conducted proceedings from a podium placed in the driveway of the facility, near the garden area where the artifact had been installed.
Nearly 200 people gathered to support the event, including local residents, an American Medical Response ambulance team, Fairfield police officers and firefighters, and various town and state officials. The latter included First Selectman Michael Tetreau, Probate Judge Dan Caruso, Police Chief Gary McNamara, D.A.R. Regent Pamela Huth, former acting first selectman Sherri Steeneck, Fire Chief David Russell (RET.), Assessor Tom Browne Jr., Town Clerk Betsy Browne, Trinity Baptist Church Pastor Dave DeVries, Board of Finance Chair Tom Flynn, State Senator John McKinney, Secretary of the Firefighters Association Lt. Bill Tuttle, Trinity Episcopal Church Reverend Nicholas Porter and Fairfield University’s Father Charles Allen.
Glancing at fire truck Ladder #2 parked in the driveway and a banner hanging from it that declared “God Bless America” in block letters, Felner remarked on the day and recognized all who had come out to lend support. Then he introduced Father Allen, who referenced the Book of Wisdom, noting, “Just as metals are strengthened by their time in fire, so too can we be strengthened by the fires we pass through.”
Felner and McNamara honored Allen by appointing him Emergency Services Chaplain for Fairfield and administered the oath as the popular clergyman concluded his remarks.
“We think of 9/11 and the twin towers collapsing,” resumed Felner. “We didn’t know the firefighters and policemen that responded personally, but they are us. We know how they lived. That day is not over; it lingers in our hearts and minds. The responders were true heroes who answered the call on that day. May they all rest in peace with the honor they deserve.”
Chief McNamara’s focus leaned to the events of the last few days, in which an arsonist torched five Fairfield homes and was ultimately captured last evening. “We commend and acknowledge the fire and police departments, and detectives, in bringing to justice the individual responsible for the fires here,” he said. “Just like fire and police responded to the events on 9/11, they do that daily every day here, responding as teams and units.”
McNamara continued, “It’s time for us to separate what’s important from what’s not important. What mattered then, that morning, wasn’t important by that afternoon. A piece of steel from the World Trade Center – what a symbol of never forgetting. We don’t really need such a reminder, but what better memorial than to have a piece of steel that shared in the disaster? And whether covered in snow, rain or swept over by a hurricane, that steel will always be there. We are grateful to have this memorial here.”
Two firefighters were instrumental in securing and bringing the steel artifact to Fairfield: Joe Rainis and Lt. John Cronin. “They had it in their minds, worked hard with phone calls and paperwork, and went down to New York City to get it,” said Felner. The process started over a year ago when the Port Authority of NY/NJ, the owners of the World Trade Center, announced that they would offer items to departments that wished to have them, according to Cronin.
“The application process included a request for the steel, verification of the department intent, a contract authorizing the transfer of the artifact and a certificate of insurance to obtain the steel,” said Cronin. “The steel was ultimately retrieved from a Port Authority hanger at JFK in New York in late May.” The artifact is a 1-inch thick I-beam about 24 inches high, 48 inches long and weighs over 600 lbs.
First Selectman Tetreau had a personal connection to the Trade Center. “I used to work there early in my career,” he said. “As the towers came down, I thought that could be me. The memorial keeps the memory alive in our community. This is the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and I think of my brother in Kabul still fighting the battle. We have to keep this alive in each of us. Thanks to the services of emergency personnel over the last couple of days and during the hurricane.”
Tetreau read a proclamation from Governor Dannel Malloy declaring Sept. 11, 2011 “Honor Our Heroes and Remembrance Day.” The document included a message from Malloy: “We are reminded of the fragility of human life and vivid memories of heroism and courage. 9/11 brought us closer as a people and strengthened our fabric as a nation. We have withstood pain and loss but nurtured each other as a whole.”
Sen. McKinney said he was not usually at a loss for words at public engagements but that it was “hard to put into words the thanks we feel for our emergency service people. You were there during the hurricane and to capture an arsonist burning unoccupied homes… My first thought when the towers went down was that thousands would lose their lives. But many thousands were saved by firefighters that went into the buildings to lead people out.”
Judge Caruso’s remarks were particularly poignant. “We know 9/11 marked a change in the country and our lives,” he said. “We also know we have the opportunity to make all the difference. We have a reminder to never forget. God has truly blessed America and this community with the men and women who protect us every day.”
Lt. Tuttle took the moment to voice concerns about how politicians say one thing about emergency services personnel but then act or pass legislation that is contrary or hurtful to the well-being of those men and women. “Don’t tell me what you believe,” he said, “show me, and I’ll tell you what you believe.”
After Felner thanked several other event contributors – Larry Coyle for helping install the monument and a large flag on the front of the fire dept., his wife Linda for putting flowers around the memorial and the Shaugnessy sisters for donating the memorial’s medallion – he, Pam Shaugnessy, Lt. Cronin and Rainis pulled back a black cover to reveal the memorial. Trimmed out in purple and yellow mums, a stone in front of the steel beam was inscribed, “Dedicated to the 343 Firefighters who lost their lives 9-11-2001.”
A stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” was performed by Nicole Sherwood and a closing prayer offered by Rev. Porter, who said, “We will not rest until everyone across this land knows the benefits of freedom.”