CHATHAM – A reporter from the local daily newspaper called Fire Chief David DePasquale to ask if the town was holding a 9/11 ceremony. The reporter asked, “Why do you still do that?”
“I was just taken aback,” DePasquale said during Sunday's 9/11 commemoration at the Depot Road fire station. “I couldn't believe he said that to me. I said we do it to honor the almost 3,000 people who got killed that day, but especially the 343 firefighters and 64 police officers and 12 EMS workers that died.”
He pointed to the town's firefighters lined up across an equipment bay. “I can't imagine ever losing one of these people. Can you image losing 343 people in one event?”
The steel beam from one of the Twin Towers that sits in a memorial garden on the front lawn of the station is there to ensure that 9/11 is not forgotten, DePasquale said.
“People come here because there's so many kids who have no idea about 9/11,” he said, adding that the department has a firefighter who was 2 years old on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It's a whole generation of people, if we don't teach them, if we don't have these services, then they don't know about it,” he said. “So we have to continue to do that.”
As firefighters unfurled two American flags containing the names of 9/11 victims, DePasquale told of an eighth grade teacher who had students pick a name from the flags and research all about the person; some kids even ended up contacting families of the victims.
“I thought that was such a powerful, powerful way to remember,” said DePasquale. “To pick a person and bring them to life, not just be a name on a flag. These kids actually brought them to life.”
Sept. 11 was one of the worst days in US history, akin to Pearl Harbor or the Jan. 6 insurrection, said select board chair Jeffrey Dykens, and “remains as a reminder of both the fragility and the sanctity of human life.”
“With service there is sacrifice,” said Police Chief Michael Anderson, noting the toll 9/11 took on firefighters, police officers and rescue workers. Experts say deaths from causes related to 9/11 could surpass those who died on that day, he said, but added that there are 65 legacy firefighters and 46 police officers in New York City who joined after a parent died on 9/11.
After opening the ceremony at 9 a.m. with the traditional tolling of a bell and the lowering of the flag to half mast, Deputy Fire Chief Justin Tavano recalled the words of Father Mychal Judge, the New York City Fire Department chaplain who was the first certified casualty on 9/11. On Sept. 10, 2001, at a dedication of a new fire house, Father Judge had spoken of firefighters' dedication to “putting one foot in front of the other” and going out to “do the job,” no matter what the call.
“None of use knows what is coming when we put on our uniforms and report for duty,” said Tavano. The same goes for most people; he called on everyone to “show up and be there for one another” and not to forget those who lost their lives on 9/11.
“Let us put one foot in front of the other and march forward as good friends, good neighbors and great Americans,” he said.
Tavano closed the ceremony by once again tolling the bell while Fire Department Lieutenant James Young raised the flag back to full mast.