Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Monday, September 12, 2011
2011 Firefighter Memorial Ceremony 9/11/2011
I suppose 9/11 is a day that no one will truly ever forget, as least not anyone who is old enough to remember it. I remember it very well, as I was watching TV when the breaking news of a plane crashing into a tower appeared. It was just two days before my daughter's second birthday, and as I watched the day unfold I was struck by the thought that not only had my world profoundly changed so had hers. She would not remember the day, but in her world this act of terrorism would always be there, and she would never know a time when our continent felt secure and untouched by such acts.
When I was told about the Firefighter Memorial Ceremony in Fort McMurray I decided it was something I needed to attend. I've never used the fire department here, but in the city in which my parents lived I had. As my parents aged there had been occasions we had called emergency services, and the local fire department was always the first responder, with their paramedics front and foremost to provide assistance to my elderly, and ill, parents. They were kind and professional and caring, and I'll never forget the time my father had collapsed and my daughter had witnessed it. A firefighter went and found her and gave her a little teddy bear, and explained to me that they try to lessen such traumas for small children. Those brave and kind men and women won my heart that day, and never really let it go.
Yesterday morning found me at the Keyano Recital Theatre, along with many other residents, and dozens of firefighters in uniform, dress and work. I walked into the theatre and noted on the stage two firefighter's jackets, emblazoned with last names, and two helmets. These were some of the few items on the stage, and they were carefully spotlit so all could see them. Seeing them immediately evoked a reaction in me as it was clear that these were individuals who were no longer in this world, and this memorial was to them, as well as to all the other firefighters lost all over North America.
When the ceremony began I found myself battling tears on several occasions. I've seen Mayor Melissa Blake speak dozens of times, but seeing her on the verge of tears brought me to the brink, too. When Tim Moen spoke about being a firefighter, about not forgetting the person behind the uniform and not becoming enmeshed in the "hero" persona, I felt the tears again, because it is so very easy to see these people as just that - uniforms and badges, not individuals who risk their lives daily. The laying of the wreaths was almost too much to bear as it became clear that while we were remembering the local firefighters who had passed on we also were recognizing the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11 - and all the others who died in the years before, and since, answering the same sorts of emergencies they did on that tragic fall day in New York.
At the end of the ceremony it was explained that they would ring a small silver bell. This bell has a long history in fire fighting. It sounded emergency calls, and it signalled when the fire was put out and the emergency over. Yesterday, at the ceremony, it sounded the Last Alarm to signify that those firefighters who had passed on were going home - for the very final time. People, I tear up just thinking about it now, because it was simple and profound and deeply impacting.
The 2011 Firefighter Memorial Ceremony was beautiful, with an honour guard and touching videos and heartfelt speeches. It was solemn and it rang with true remembrance of those who bravely risk their lives to save others. As I watched the stage, though, my eyes kept being drawn to those two jackets and helmets, those two firemen who have now left our world forever. I thought about them, and their families, and I thought about 9/11 and the families of the firefighters, police officers, and civilians lost on that tragic day. It all mixed together in my mind until the Last Post sounded, and in the moment of silence that followed I silently expressed my deep thankfulness to those who have served our community, and our world, so well. I thanked not just those individuals but their families, too, who see them walk out the door every day not knowing if they will ever come back in. I thanked them for making that kind of commitment and sacrifice for all of us. When the Reveille sounded I felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted, and thought that perhaps after ten years and this ceremony I had truly personally memorialized 9/11, the brave men and women from that day, and the equally courageous men and women in my own community who are their brethren.
On Friday I attended the RCMP Regimental Ball. Yesterday I wrote about the ball and dedicated my blog to our local detachment, and to our local Victim Services organization. Today I dedicate this blog to IAFF Local 2494, or, as most of us know them, the Fort McMurray Fire Fighters. To these brave men and women I express my profound gratitude, and my deepest respect. They are such a vital part of our community, and provide services that most of us hope to never use - and yet we are so incredibly thankful that these professionals are there to serve us when the need arises. I don't have enough words to tell them how much they are appreciated, or to tell them how the ceremony yesterday touched me. Instead, I offer them this video. I hope it and my inadequate words show them just a tiny bit of how deeply grateful I am.