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9/11 memorial hits home for Arlington firefighters

MARYSVILLE — The Arlington community observed Sept. 11, 2011, not only as the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but also as a day for their firefighters to rededicate themselves and their "house."

Arlington Firehouse 46 was thronged with crowds well before the Blackjack Squadron flew a "Missing Man Formation" in the skies overhead, to honor the 2,977 lives lost 10 years ago, after which Arlington Deputy Fire Chief Tom Cooper opened the day's ceremonies shortly after 11 a.m. by reflecting on where he was when the planes struck the Twin Towers.

"[Fellow Arlington firefighter] Phil Knepper told me I needed to see what was happening on TV," Cooper said. "I'd already been on shift for 24 hours, so I wanted to go home to my loved ones. Within 30 seconds of when I started watching, the second plane crashed into the towers. It was difficult for me to comprehend what I was seeing, with the number of people who had died in that moment."

"You're not alone," a voice in the crowd called out.

"No, I'm not," Cooper said.

Arlington Mayor Margaret Larson credited the members of Arlington American Legion Post 76 with staging annual 9/11 remembrance ceremonies in Legion Park in the years that followed to help ensure that those who were lost would not be forgotten.

"As you get older, you see how important these traditions are," Larson said. "They're the glue that binds together the old and the young."

To that end, Larson proudly touted not only the installation of the original Arlington fire station's brass pole in the recently renovated Arlington Firehouse 46, but also the presence of the artifact from the World Trade Center that four Arlington firefighters had personally retrieved from New York City, so that it could be displayed to the public in a place of honor at Firehouse 46.

"We must both embrace the past and celebrate the future, because they belong together," Larson said.

Arlington Police Chief Nelson Beazley congratulated the Arlington Fire Department on their upgraded station at the same time that he urged all those in attendance to follow the examples of Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. He quoted the Pledge of Allegiance to describe how his countrymen became "one nation, under God, indivisible" in the days, weeks and months after the terrorist attacks.

"We must never, ever, ever forget," Beazley said. "Events like this are what make Arlington such a special place."

Arlington Fire Chief Bruce Stedman echoed Cooper's admission that the ceremony's organizers had no idea how many people might show up to Arlington Firehouse 46 that day, as he praised the rows of seated police officers and firefighters in attendance for making the same decision as the 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers and emergency workers who died 10 years ago because they'd all sworn the same oath, to lay down their own lives to save the lives of others if needed.

"When a man becomes a fireman, his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished," Stedman said, quoting New York City Fire Chief Edward Croker's remarks from a century before 9/11. "What he does after that is all in the line of work."

While Stedman believes that firefighters' courage in the face of danger and dedication to their duties have not changed in the century since Croker's assessment, he acknowledged that the scope of firefighters and other first responders' mission was forever altered by 9/11, since it's expanded to include dealing with chemical and biological weapons, "dirty bombs" and terrorism.

To that end, Stedman was pleased to be able to recognize these added responsibilities by securing a 13-foot, 4,373-pound steel beam from the World Trade Center, which he'd applied for last year with the support of Larson and the Arlington City Council, and which the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had approved the Arlington Fire Department to receive this summer.

"There were contracts to be signed and insurance issues to be resolved prior to the steel being released to us," Stedman said. "I was told numerous times by many people, including the Port Authority, not to get my hopes up of having it here before Sept. 11, due to the large amount of red tape. My response, each time, was that they didn't know the community of Arlington or its firefighters."

Stedman explained that four Arlington firefighters volunteered to drive to New York City on their own time, a trip they managed to make in less than 42 hours after leaving town on Aug. 14, while their fellow Arlington firefighters covered their shifts until their return to town on Aug. 20.

Before the steel was unveiled from the box that the Arlington firefighters had built for it, Stedman estimated that approximately $50,000 in funds would need to be raised to build a memorial housing for it at Firehouse 46, with an eye toward completing construction before Sept. 11, 2012.

"It is our goal that this somber memorial will serve not only to tell the stories of those who willingly ran into those burning buildings to save lives, but also to help us as firefighters remain focused on the broadened scope of our mission," Stedman said.

Stedman concluded his 9/11 memorial remarks by recalling how, nine days prior to the ceremony, he'd welcomed five new volunteer firefighters to the Arlington Fire Department and invited them to touch the box housing the World Trade Center artifact.

"We talked about the fact that, in America, firefighters are given well-deserved respect, but that with this respect comes responsibility and the importance of never losing the public's trust," Stedman said.

After the completion of the 9/11 memorial ceremony, Stedman transitioned immediately into the rededication ceremony for Arlington Firehouse 46, whose history he summarized from its first incarnation as a one-story structure that was built in 1961, to replace the Arlington Fire Department's former home in the current Arlington City Hall building, to its 1973 remodeling, which added three apparatus bays to the station's existing five at a cost of $32,000. In 1994, the Arlington City Council authorized the purchase of the building to the south of the station to turn it into the station's administration offices.

"There's a saying in the fire service that a fire chief's success is the collective result on sitting on the shoulders of all the chiefs who have come before them," Stedman said. "I want to thank all the Arlington Fire Department's previous chiefs, including those here today. Dean Olsen, Mike Ganz and Jim Rankin, let me assure you, the view is fine from up here."

Public tours of Firehouse 46 commenced as soon as Larson conducted an official ribbon-cutting with a ceremonial fire ax.

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