Local responders, community gather to remember those lost in 9/11 attacks

Sept. 11, 2001 was the most deadly day for firefighters in American history.

That day, 343 employees of the New York Fire Department–340 firefighter, two paramedics and a chaplain–were killed responding to the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center.

On Tuesday, local first responders and their families, civic leaders and the general public gathered at Fire Station 1 downtown to honor and remember those lost that day, which in addition to firefighters, included 37 police officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department; 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department; 8 emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private agencies; and one patrolman from the New York Fire Patrol.

Fifty-five military personnel were also killed in the attacks.

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In total, nearly 3,000 people died and more than 6,000 were injured on Sept. 11, 2001.

That included 265 people on the four planes; 2,606 in the World Trade Center and surrounding area and 125 at the Pentagon.

During Tuesday’s ceremony,  a bell rang out with three sets of three rings, as is custom in the fire service for recognizing a fallen firefighter.

Great Falls Fire Rescue Chief Steve Hester said that it was the “most tragic day in my history on this planet.”

Capt. Jeff Newton of the Great Falls Police Department said that Tuesday’s ceremony was a chance to reflect on who we are as a county and who we are as individuals.

“We are humbled, yet inspired and encouraged by the sacrifice and bravery of those who perished. We are humbled, yet inspired and encouraged by those who worked tirelessly on Sept. 11 and in the days following,” Newton said. “Let us not look backward in fear or trepidation. Let us look forward with resolve, vigilance and professionalism.”

Travis Cik, Ryan Olson and Brooke Lindskog are some of the most recent hires at GFFR.

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On Sept. 11, 2001, Cik was in seventh grade, Olson was in fourth and Lindskog was in first.

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Cik was in the dentist’s chair while all the dental staff around him stopped to watch the attacks unfold on television. He said he didn’t really understand what was happening until his mom explained it to him on the way to school.

Olson was working on handwriting in a Minnesota school and distinctly remembers breaking a pencil sharpener that morning.

It was heartening to them to see members of the public attend the ceremony, though it was a lighter crowd this year.

As firefighters, they said it was important to hold these remembrance ceremonies for an event that caused the biggest loss of firefighter lives in U.S. history.

“They went in as if it were any normal call,” Olson said. “And they didn’t come home.”