Firefighters, law enforcement, veterans, and residents alike all gathered underneath the pavilion at Fowler Park on Friday, Sept. 10 to attend “an event that we wish we didn’t have to hold, but we know we need to.”
Jason Shivers, division chief of technical services for the Forsyth County Fire Department, began the “somber event” by recalling where he was on Sept. 11, 2001.
Shivers said he was on duty at Fire Station 1 in downtown Cumming when he heard the news about the terrorist attacks 20 years ago.
“It’s a day that sticks to all of us, and all of our memories and is something that I’m sure we’re all teaching our children and grandchildren about because we never want to forget,” Shivers said.
After a prayer led by Forsyth County Fire Department Chaplain Shane Milford, who prayed for all the families affected that day and asked for a blessing of safety for those continuing to serve, the Forsyth County Honor Guard held a Presentation of Colors.
The Forsyth County Honor Guard is made up of members from the Forsyth County fire department and sheriff’s office.
The Chestatee River Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution presented a wreath and laid it before the crowd in remembrance.
Veterans in the audience saluted during the Pledge of Allegiance and sang along with FCSO Lt. Kenny Hughes as he performed “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood.
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Fire Chief Barry Head spoke about the casualties on 9/11, saying that 2,997 people lost their lives with over 6,000 left injured.
“That morning, a morning much like today, at 8:46 a.m., our world was forever changed,” Head said.
He said 246 lost their lives on the four planes, 2,606 lost their lives in the Twin Towers, 125 civilians along with military personnel lost their lives at the Pentagon and 412 first responders lost their lives.
The largest portion of first responders that died were firefighters, with the number totaling 343. Head said that the New York Fire Department also lost its chief that day and that the casualties were the largest loss the firefighting profession has ever seen.
Head said more than 2,000 public safety workers have died in the last 20 years due to 9/11-related illnesses, and “that number continues to climb.”
“How we remember the events of 9/11 as a community teaches future generations about what we value in the courage, compassion and the unity that carried us through the storm on 9/11,” Head said.
“But what did not die that day was the spirit and the resolve of the American people,” Head said. “This tragedy reminds us how much we are all connected, and that we are stronger when we work together.”
Head remembered that retailers had sold out of American flags shortly following the attacks and that Americans had “kindness, respect and compassion for each other.”
Head also encouraged the audience to continue to support those that put themselves in harm’s way for the wellbeing of others, including military personnel and first responders.
One example of bravery and heroism happened in Forsyth County on Aug. 4 when firefighters responded to a “reported structure fire” that had originally begun as a domestic incident.
Forsyth County Fire Apparatus Operator David Cody, Firefighter/EMT Patrick Francis, Firefighter/EMT Zak Holbrook, Firefighter/EMT Madelyn Martin and Firefighter Joel Roberts from Station 12 arrived on scene to find that no one was inside the building, but the crew still needed to put out the fire to attempt to save the property.
“Regardless, one of the pillars of our job is to save property,” Shivers said. “So, the crew went to work, because they knew they had property to save and that there was a family relying on them to save things that were important to them.”
Four of the five crew members were injured with Cody “somewhat severely” injured.
Each of the five members of Station 12 were recognized for their heroism and ability to work under extreme duress.
“It’s because of their heroic acts and their courage to run towards danger and not away from danger that allows us to sleep at night,” State Sen. Steve Gooch said.
Gooch read commendations from Gov. Brian Kemp and presented each of the crew members with those honors signed by Kemp.
As the audience gave a big round of applause, Gooch extended a personal commendation to all the “great” first responders in north Georgia that work hard each day to keep civilians safe.
Sheriff Ron Freeman shared his own remarks to wrap up the event, speaking about the tragedies of 9/11 and when “evil showed its face to all of America.”
“It was the worst of days,” Freeman said, “…but it also showed us what America is — what we could actually be when we came together.”
Freeman said that he believed some of the nation “may have lost view of that” unity and his personal prayer was for America to be able to “find unity to stand against evil, use force when necessary, have grace and compassion for those in need” and to never forget what happened on 9/11.
Freeman spoke about the 13 marines that “paid the ultimate sacrifice” on Aug. 26 during the Kabul Airport Attack in Afghanistan, stating that as Americans, we should pay tribute to all those that have been lost, those that survived and those that continue to serve.
He said there were heroes in the souls lost on Sept. 11, 2001, and there are heroes in the souls that are continuing to serve the public and the country to protect the freedoms that Americans “easily enjoy” every single day “and may sometimes overlook.”
As a parting statement, Freeman said that 9/11 should be a day of remembrance, but it should also be a day where we “should proudly proclaim: We are Americans.”