CUMMING -- Some of the young men who stood looking up at the flags flying at half-staff and listening to 15 rings of a bell are too young to remember the day 14 years ago their fire chief spoke about. Too young to remember leaving work or school early to stare at smoke and rubble on a screen.
Even so, it is a day they must never forget.
The annual ceremony at the Forsyth County Public Safety Complex to honor those lost in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 is not held out of hatred or out of meanness, said Forsyth County Fire Chief Danny Bowman.
“It just goes to show that you cannot break the American will. The ceremony you are about to witness has one word attached,” he said. “That word is remembrance.”
Remembrance of the about 3,000 people killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, on the Pentagon in Virginia and on the plane of the failed attack that downed in Pennsylvania.
“For us to remember the 343 firefighters who died going up the stairs while others were coming down … Those firefighters’ families, which would number in the 10s-of-thousands when you include children and grandchildren, and now widows. We are never going to forget today,” he said. “Ever. And just as Dec. 7 is remembered for Pearl Harbor, this is the fire department’s Pearl Harbor …
“That’s why this recruit school is in session. To learn.”
Every time the recruits — or anyone — walk in the door to the Public Safety Complex, they can see part of an I-beam that used to be part of one of the towers. It has been displayed in the atrium of the building on permanent loan from the Official Fire Department, City of New York, or FDNY, since the building opened in 2006.
The center of the artifact was cut to make medallions for the families of the 343 firefighters killed in action.
“It is New York mounted on Georgia marble,” Bowman said. “It will never leave this building, as far as I’m concerned.”
When Bowman met with the FDNY fire chief, he said he was not interested in any piece that would be displayed behind a rope or within a case of glass.
“It’s out in the open so you can walk up and touch it. You can feel the steel and have that connection with the history behind it,”
Forsyth County Fire Division Chief Jason Shivers said. “If for any reason it ever has to go away, the building is done away with or whatever the case is, it must go back to the FDNY.”
Shivers said they took that promise so sincerely that as it was prepared for display, a few sharp edges had to be cut off.
“We shipped those shavings back to the New York chief as a show of our sincerity; how sincerely we took that promise to them.”
Just as firefighters honor their word and their history, they also honor tradition.
“In the early days of American firefighting, the company was given an alarm by ringing in a code,” Division Chief Kevin Wallace said.
“The alarm code 5-5-5 signifies that company has returned home.
On Sept. 11, 2001, many responders were killed or injured during their response in the terrorist attacks on America. And today, there are those who daily put their lives in harm’s way to protect our country.
“In remembrance of those who lost their lives protecting America, we ring the code 5-5-5 to signify their return.”