FAIRBANKS — Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, hundreds of area firefighters, law enforcement officials and community members gathered at Pioneer Park on Sunday to honor the 343 firefighters who died when the World Trade Center fell.
The morning’s ceremony was a somber gathering, but also the largest the event has seen since local firefighters held a spontaneous memorial hours after the World Trade Center fell on Sept. 11, 2011.
Fire engines from nearby departments were parked around the entrance to the park, and local firefighters held a moment of silence and read the names of every one of their colleagues who died in the attack.
In an event that has been held every year, the message firefighters will “never forget” the sacrifice their colleagues made that day rang clear, during a speech delivered by University Fire Department Chief Doug Schrage.
“In another ten years and after another tens years after that and ten years still then, and on and on — in a hundred years and after a thousand more firefighters have perished,” he said, “we will still remember these 343 firefighters because how they changed us, as an industry, as a profession and as a nation.”
It’s a message that has been repeated across the country.
Now that a decade has passed since the attack, and the wounds have all but healed, Schrage spoke the words with added emphasis now that the events and their importance fade into history.
“It is my personal hope that Sept. 11 never be established as a national holiday,” he said, “and thus relegated to another three day weekend on which to take our families camping.”
And while the audience was largely filled with career firefighters, there were many young men and women wearing the fireman’s blue uniform at Sunday’s event.
“I remember that day really well — getting up and seeing the look on my mom’s face as the second plane hit the tower,” said Nick Clark, a 22-year-old firefighter with the UFD.
But for Clark and many of his fellow young firefighters, events of 9/11 haven’t been the driving force in becoming a firefighter.
“9/11 wasn’t the reason I became a firefighter,” he said.
Instead, Clark said it was the pride and the chance to help others — a trait that was exemplified by the 343 firefighters — that lead them to join the ranks of the firefighters.
Jayson Russell, a 23-year-old who is also with the UFD, agreed, adding that he sees his role as a young firefighter to preserve and continue the memories of those who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty for generations to come.
“I wanted to become a firefighter before that day,” he said, “but it wasn’t until I now that I found out how much firefighters remember.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544.