Chapel Hill Fire Department remembers fallen firefighters

Sep. 11, 2013 @ 04:06 PM

Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones remembers the grief, anger and frustration that he and other firefighters felt after terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York City 12 years ago.

After the Twin Towers crashed to the ground - killing thousands, including firefighters, paramedics and police officers - emergency personnel from all over the country wanted to go to New York to help.

“It was hard to keep from going there and keeping our people from going,” Jones said Wednesday morning following a memorial observance at the Chapel Hill Fire Department. “A lot of our folks wanted to get on planes at their own expense in the days that followed.”

Jones knew that a disorganized response might make things more difficult for those working in New York City, so he discouraged his people from going there.

At the same time, Jones said he felt a great sense of pride in the work of the New York firefighters who saved lives when they rushed to the towers and helped people get out of the buildings before they collapsed.

He can’t help but remember the families who lost loved ones.

“It still really touches me today,” Jones said.

“They’ll always have that hole in their families,” he said. “The rest of the world moves on, but they never do.”

Jones led a memorial observance in front of the Chapel Hill Fire Department that began at 8:40 a.m. Wednesday. The Honor Guard marched from inside the department across the driveway to the flag pole and raised the American flag. At 8:46 a.m. the fire department tone went off, and the department’s intercom system crackled as a 911 dispatcher announced the first strike.

After a moment of silence and an invocation, the Honor Guard, carrying silver axes returned to the flag pole, this time to lower the flag to half-staff.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue read off some statistics about the “unimaginable” attack.

The towers burned for 56 and 102 minutes before they collapsed, killing 343 firefighters and paramedics. Twenty-three New York police officers and 37 Port Authority officers were killed.

 “Certainly life for public safety professionals was changed forever,” Blue said. “New training, tools for improved communication and information sharing, response protocols, command and control procedures, all improved and enhanced by the lessons we learned and from the experiences of those responding to those historic sites.”

Many lessons were learned from 911, and throughout the country emergency personnel worked together to prepare for a future attack.

“What brings me comfort and hope is that we, you, the brotherhood and sisterhood of public safety remain ready to respond to the next call, the next tragedy, the next significant event,” Blue said. “Horrible though they were, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 have made us more ready to respond with a resolve and a sense of duty that is stronger than ever.”