This month we honor the victims of the horrific attacks against our country and our people, which occurred on September 11, 2001. As a country we vow to never forget the many people who lost their lives, from the innocent who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time to the numerous first responders who sacrificed their all to come to the aid of others. For the public safety workers who were involved and survived these incidents, we couldn’t forget that day if we wanted too.
For those of us who are old enough and lived through 9/11, it’s easy to remember. Each of us knows exactly where we were as each hijacked plane struck unbelievable targets. For those born after 9/11, how will you remember and pay tribute?
I recently saw a picture of a group of young adults standing in front of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. Each of them had a big grin on their face as if standing in front of a monument shooting a social media selfie. It became clear to me they did not understand what it meant to stand on hallowed ground and the proper way to show respect and honor to the many whose names are etched in the walls. Perhaps they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Maybe they never saw any of the many documentaries that showcase the courage and sacrifice of people and the greatness of a country coming together in one of the darkest moments of our time.
Each year the same documentaries are played over and over again that tell the many stories. Each year I learn something more about the events of 9/11. Many of them are untold stories of other heroes like the many commercial ferry, tugboat, and private vessel operators that responded to the Manhattan seawall to evacuate people from the island. They moved countless numbers of people to safety and provided comfort from the storm.
What about the 300 rescue (hero) dogs and their handlers who worked rubble piles and climbed into void spaces to locate victims and survivors. I remember two in particular searching debris piles at the Pentagon. Watching these special dogs and their handlers was like art in motion, perfect communication through head nods and gestures. There were no words between them, but they understood each other instinctively.
At the end of some long days and nights it was pure joy to see the faces of these dogs and to place a hand on their fur. They had no idea how instrumental their work was and the many ways in which they brought joy to rescue workers just by being there, just by being dogs. They too would work for hours upon hours, showing signs of exhaustion like the other rescue workers. Just as they had comforted us, they too found comfort in the attention we provided them.
Other unsung heroes that took care of rescue workers were members of clergy, Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers, commercial and private agencies who provided nourishment, psychologists and other professionals to aid with critical incident stress defusing and debriefing, aid workers who provided physical and emotional comfort, and logistics suppliers who provided everything from socks and sweatshirts on cold nights to tools and equipment that supported mission critical goals.
Whether you lived through 9/11 or are still learning about it during annual remembrances and in school, please take time out of your day each September 11th to honor those who lost their lives, those who sacrificed everything to help others, those who took part in the rescue and recovery, and the many unsung heroes that did so much for so many. Above all, teach others about 9/11 so they won’t forget and so they understand how to honor and respect the fallen.
9/11 memorials are no place for inappropriate selfies or behavior as family members, friends, and first responders may be morning while you insult them by acting the fool. Don’t buy or wear 9/11 clothing and articles that serve to make money for others on the backs of the fallen. Better to donate to the many reputable charities that support our fallen heroes and their families, wounded warriors and the like. Remember the day, honor and respect the fallen, thank those that continue to stand on the walls to keep you safe and those who run in to save others while everyone else is running out.
NICK J. SALAMEH is a 36 year veteran of the fire service. He was a Fire/Emergency Medical Services Captain II and previous Training Program Manager for the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department, with which he served 31 years. He is a former Chair of the Northern Virginia Fire Departments Training Committee and was a former volunteer firefighter for the Fairfax County, VA Fire and Rescue Department, Bailey’s Crossroads Fire Station 10. Nick is a contributor to Fire Engineering Magazine www.fireengineering.com and Stop Believing Start Knowing (SBSK), https://www.facebook.com/StopBelievingStartKnowing/.