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Jan. 25, 2022 | Tuesday
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Firefighters remember heroic actions of 9/11 first responders
NOTL politicians stand in solidarity Saturday while firefighters salute the Canadian and U.S. flags after they were raised from half mast during a memorial ceremony on the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of 9/11. (Richard Harley)

Niagara-on-the-Lake first responders say they never want to forget the tragedy of 9/11 and will be out on the streets every Sept. 11 to pay respects to those who died that day.

The NOTL Chamber of Commerce held a small, solemn memorial ceremony on Saturday, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

About 30 people, plus crews from all five NOTL fire stations, gathered around the clock tower cenotaph early in the morning, coinciding with the time of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

They paid respects to those who lost their lives during the tragic attack that killed almost 3,000 people, including more than two dozen Canadians and 350 firefighters.

Louis Prue, a NOTL firefighter for 15 years, said the tragic loss of life affected all first responders.

"It's sort of a tribute to all first responders, but mostly the ones that lost their lives in New York. It was devastating. Guys, women going in to do their duty, not knowing what they were going to face, and catastrophe struck. It affects all first responders."

Prue was living and working in northern Virginia when the attacks happened. He said he could see the smoke coming from the Pentagon from where he was at the time, near Dulles Airport, about 40 kilometres west of Washington, D.C.

"That day was — it was surreal. That's the best way to describe it. Absolutely surreal," he said.

"One of my most vivid memories was, there was a fellow I worked with who was a former Marine, and he was retired, and we were going out to our car. They sent us home. And he was on his phone trying to get hold of his sister who was a captain in the Marine Corps stationed at the Pentagon, and he couldn't get her," Prue said.

"And finally at the last minute before we got into cars he contacted her. And she just changed out of her civies into her utilities and she was going in to do body recovery, search and rescue."

Derek Rooney, assistant district chief for St. Davids, said for him, the morning was about everyone who lost their lives.

"I think for most of us it's just about paying respects to the guys that did the job that day in New York. And, you know, they weren't able to go home that night and see their families," he said.

"And not only the guys that responded, but everybody that was involved that was in the towers, everybody that lost their lives, everybody that was in New York that day, and the world. It was a life-changing event, definitely for all of us, as part of the fire service," Rooney said.

"And we just come down here to commemorate those events and what happened and pay homage to our brothers and sisters that were down there that day. It does mean a lot to us. It's a big deal. And you never want to forget that day. You never will, so we'll keep coming down here on Sept. 11, every year."

He said it's one of the biggest fire calls he can remember.

"I mean, there's been big fires, but nothing like that," he said.

Knowing that sometimes you don't know exactly how a fire call will go is something all firefighters have faced, which adds to a sense of empathy, Rooney said.

"You can go and talk to any one of the people wearing a uniform here today and we've all felt that thing in our gut where you don't know how it's gonna go. And (9/11) is on the larger scale. But anytime we go on the trucks and we go lights and sirens, you don't know how it's gonna go. We definitely feel empathy for those members that went down there that day, not knowing if they would go back to their families."