A group of more than 100 uniformed firefighters, police, emergency responders, citizens and students gathered Wednesday morning at the Fallen Firefighter Memorial outside South County Fire Station 17 to pause, reflect, remember and honor all those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The event was emceed by South County firefighter Dave “Bronco” Erickson, who led the years-long effort to expand Edmonds’ Fallen Firefighter Memorial by securing a twisted girder from the wreckage of the Twin Towers, personally accompanying it to Edmonds, and placing it as the centerpiece of the park.
“We’re here today to honor and remember all those who were lost on that fateful day,” he began. “It was 18 years ago; today I’m working with people who were just out of the crib and don’t remember it. As time passes it becomes more important to make sure that we never forget that day.”
After acknowledging a group of students and staff from Edmonds’ Stella Maris Academy, who attended the observance, Erickson reviewed the events of 9-11, explaining how the hijackers took control of four commercial aircraft with the intent of deliberately flying them into pre-selected targets.
Relating how the first aircraft struck the north tower at 8:46 a.m., the second struck the south tower at 9:03, and the third struck the Pentagon at 9:45, he noted that the fourth aircraft did not strike its intended target due to the actions of passengers on board, who attempted to wrest control from the hijackers. Due to the passengers’ efforts, United Flight 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, Penn. instead of hitting its intended target. All on board perished.
“By 10:28 a.m. both towers had collapsed,” he continued. “The death toll that day was more than 3000, making it the worst attack in American history. Among the dead were 343 firefighters, 60 police officer, and 10 emergency services personnel. Other responders spent many subsequent months sifting through the debris, recovering victims. To this day, many are still missing.”
Eleven years after the attack, Erickson and his family traveled to New York to visit the ground zero memorial and recover the girder now on display in Edmonds.
“As we walked through the site we were surprised to hear an announcement that it was being closed and everyone had to vacate immediately,” he recalled. “We later learned that a construction crew working on the new tower had found yet another set of human remains, and that the site was being closed so these could be extracted in a dignified manner and returned to the family.
“I wasn’t prepared for the emotions this brought up for me,” he said, choking up. “We don’t care because we are firefighters — we are firefighters because we care.”
A color guard of firefighters then raised the flag and lowered it to half-staff while the audience stood at attention and bugler Debbie Dawson played taps.
Erickson next explained the significance and symbolism of the Fallen Firefighter Memorial, noting the stainless-steel panels representing the twin towers; the two glass murals containing 3,000 facets in honor of the lives lost that day – 343 in red and 60 in blue honoring fallen firefighters and police respectively; the five-sided foundation representing the Pentagon; the four trees recognizing the four aircraft; the grassy lawn representing the Shanksville field; and, of course, the twisted girder that forms the centerpiece of the park.
“The flag honors all firefighters who have given their lives in the line of duty,” he continued. “The box at the base of the flagpole contains their names. The most recent is a New York City firefighter killed in the line of duty only a few weeks ago. The flag is kept at half-staff in perpetual recognition of those who died in the process of serving you.”
Erickson then called former New York firefighter Andy Speier to speak. Speier relocated to the Puget Sound area and worked for the former Edmonds Fire Department prior to the 9-11 attacks, but continued to maintain close ties with his brother and sister firefighters in New York.
“On the day of the attacks, I was (ironically) teaching a course in building collapse to a group of first responders in Machias,” he said. “I called my old battalion chief in New York, asked how I could help, and he said that they could sure use me. I knew I had to go. I called Edmonds Chief Tom Tomberg and offered to quit so I could do this. He told me to go back and stay as long as I needed to, he’d cover for me.
“I’ll never forget what I saw,” Speier continued. “It was like a war zone back there, tanks and military vehicles in the streets, armed soldiers, responders digging through debris. I’ll never forget.”
Speier’s remarks were followed by those of Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, who recalled that fateful day.
“I still remember where I was on that morning, the old TV I was watching,” he said. “It is such an honor to come back here every year and spend time recalling these experiences, and knowing how it has forever changed our country.”
Returning to the podium, Erickson thanked the audience for attending, reminding them that “we built this park for you as a place to come, reflect and remember.”
All then stood for a moment of silence as bugler Debbie Dawson ended the ceremony with “Amazing Grace.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel