Published Friday, Sept. 11, 2009 | 9 a.m.
Updated Friday, Sept. 11, 2009 | 1:53 p.m.
It was an emotional morning for Las Vegas firefighters as they gathered at flagpoles outside their stations, listening as bells chimed at 6:59 a.m. in memory of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Station No. 5 firefighters paid their respects with a moment of silence, hoisting a U.S. flag at half-staff that once flew over the World Trade Center. The city received the flag in 2004 and it has flown one day a year in memory of the attacks.
It was one of several ceremonies throughout the valley on Friday.
At Fire Station No. 5, 1020 Hinson St., a few residents joined firefighters for the early morning flag ceremony. Wendy Jackson said she saw the ceremony on television and wanted to be a part of it. Toby Wells said he wanted to see the flag being hoisted first-hand.
“We’re fortunate enough to have this flag flown at half-staff once a year, and I’m fortunate to be here to enjoy it,” Wells said.
At 6:59 a.m., firefighters across the country sounded three sets of bell tones in honor of the 343 firefighters who died eight years ago.
Las Vegas Fire & Rescue spokesman Tim Szymanski said firefighters have been tolling the bells for decades to honor firefighters who have died while on the job. The annual Sept. 11 ceremony is not only to honor firefighters, but everyone who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We do it for everyone … firefighters, civilians and police officers,” he said.
Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Chief Greg Gammon said Sept. 11 is a day that he and other firefighters remember daily.
“This was a high-rise office building and every firefighter would have been in there trying to help,” he said.
Gammon said that people often visit the metal on display outside the station. Many rest a hand on it and say a prayer, he said.
Later in the morning, firefighters from across the valley joined in a ceremony at the Clark County Government Center. Clark County Fire Department spokesman Scott Allison began the ceremony with a poem he wrote in response to what happened Sept. 11, 2001.
As he recited the last few lines of the poem, his voice began to quiver. Encouragement from the audience drew him to finish.
“We must never forget those who died that day,” Allison said, adding that 2,973 people were killed in the attacks and 24 were never found.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie took a moment to recognize and thank emergency workers. He condemned the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“It was an intentional act that took those lives,” Gillespie said.
Gammon, Clark County Fire Chief Steve Smith and County Commissioner Susan Brager offered words to emergency workers and their families.
As the ceremony drew to a close, Allison asked the audience to take a moment of silence for two Las Vegans who died during the attacks. One victim was Barbara Edwards, 58, who was on American Airlines Flight 77, one of the hijacked planes that struck the Twin Towers. She was a teacher at Palo Verde High School.
The Southern Nevada Multi-Agency Honor Guard fired three shots to honor police officers and paramedics and the Clark County Fire Department rang the station bell to honor firefighters.
Bagpipers ended the ceremony with “Amazing Grace.” Van Frazier, of the Desert Skye Pipes and Drums band, was one of the performers.
“We wanted to give back support,” Frazier said. “This is the first time we’ve all played together and we wanted to do it to honor the firefighters and police officers.”
Other remembrances were to be held around the valley today, including one this morning in Edwards’ honor at Palo Verde High School. Tonight at 6 p.m., UNLV’s student government organization is hosting an event at the Alumni Amphitheater. In Boulder City, the Elks Lodge was sponsoring a dinner at 6:30 p.m. for any police officer or firefighter.
Later this evening, uniformed Las Vegas firefighters were expected to gather again, this time on the Brooklyn Bridge outside the New York-New York hotel-casino.
Several volunteer projects are planned in conjunction with President Barack Obama’s first Sept. 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. The United Way's Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada will be making cards and banners for troops at United Way of Southern Nevada, 1660 East Flamingo Road.
United Way's Volunteer Director Robin Kelley said the Volunteer Center wanted to do something for military families and personnel, while also reviving the kindness and generosity displayed after Sept. 11, 2001.
“Obama’s Call to Service in June was meant to make all Americans remember the volunteerism after Sept. 11,” Kelley said. “People became a nation of family.”
The United Way is working with other organizations and companies to create that family again. Kelley said some schools are participating in the National Day of Service and Remembrance. Elementary school students already have submitted letters thanking officers and troops for their service, she said.
AmeriCorp Volunteer Brandon Greene said he wanted to spend one of his mandatory service days giving back because he knows how it feels to have a relative deployed. AmeriCorp Volunteer Ebony Smith said she is making a card because so many people aren’t appreciative or aware of the service military troops provide.
“It’s a way to say thank you universally,” Kelley said. “We already have ideas for next year.”
U.S. Reps. Dina Titus and Shelley Berkley (both D-Nev.) and U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis are volunteering to serve food to homeless veterans at U.S. VETS Initiative, 525 E. Bonanza Road, while the Proud Blue Star Mothers of Henderson and Boulder City will be delivering cookies to firefighters and police officers.
Chere’ Pedersen, membership leader of Proud Blue Star Mothers of Henderson and Boulder City, said the date also was fitting because many mothers in the organization feel connected to Sept. 11, 2001. Their children joined the military shortly after the attacks, she said.
“Al-Qaeda came and destroyed two buildings and killed a lot of Americans for no reason at all, and we want to remember those first responders who tried to save the people they could,” Pedersen said. “We think of them as heroes and we want to honor them.”
Group member Shannon Scaletta said the mothers have gone to veterans hospitals with pies and cakes before, but this is the first year for cookie deliveries.
“It’s an honor to do something so small and simple,” Scaletta said. “That means a great deal to us just to be able to take these cookies and deliver them and say ‘thank you’ for what they did then and what they do now.”
President Dorothy Fusco has a personal tie with Sept. 11. Her brother is a former captain with the New York City Fire Department and her son is a New York police detective. Both were unharmed during the attacks, but a close friend of Fusco’s didn’t survive.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she recounted how one World Trade Center tower collapsed onto a fire truck, killing her friend.
“When Sept. 11 happened, our firefighters and police officers ran into the buildings while everybody else ran away from the buildings,” Fusco said. “It’s our way of thanking them because they’re unsung heroes.”
Nevada Sens. Harry Reid (D) and John Ensign (R) both released statements on remembering the attacks.
"As I think back to those minutes, hours and days following those heinous attacks, the one thing that gives me the most solace and comfort is the heroism demonstrated by the first responders and volunteers who saved lives, cared for the wounded, and comforted the grieving. In many cases, they tragically sacrificed their own lives,” Reid said. "On this anniversary, and all those to follow, we must never forget the innocent lives we lost or the burden we bear for the freedom we cherish.”
Ensign said that Americans should focus on the lives lost and the continued suffering of the victims’ loved ones. He said the country needs to remain vigilant.
“We cannot afford to let down our guard or forget what is at stake if we do. We owe it to the nearly 3,000 innocent men, women, and children who were killed,” he said.
“Today, we should also remember that we are still a nation at war, and the threat we face from al-Qaeda is very real. I invite all Nevadans to pause and pray for our brave troops on the front lines of this all-important battle, many of whom have given their lives in defense of our freedoms.”