Hoisting up some of the very metal that fell in lower Manhattan 10 years ago and reading out the names of some of those who died when the World Trade Center collapsed, Inland Northwest residents joined the nation’s solemn remembrance of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in many ways throughout the day Sunday.
The Spokane Valley Fire Department installed a 1,200-pound piece of steel beam from the World Trade Center in its unfinished administration building at 2120 N. Wilbur Road. The beam was carried inside by members of the department as well as a few elected officials and representatives from the Washington State Patrol and all five branches of the military.
“Let us never forget,” Fire Chief Mike Thompson said while recalling where he was that day 10 years ago. “This is one of the saddest days in American history.”
Firefighters used a pulley to hoist the heavy beam into place. Steel groaned against concrete as it was lowered into a hole in the floor. After the ceremony was over, many people reached out to touch the beam as they passed.
The Rev. Craig Goodwin said a short prayer and said people should “not let the hatred and violence of that day overtake us.”
Capt. Pat Schaffer of Spokane Valley Fire, who helped lift the beam into position, was getting ready for his shift when he heard about the attacks. Crews spent the day watching television during their free time even though having the television on during the day isn’t allowed. They watched the first tower fall. “We were thinking about the mayday calls and what must have been going through their minds,” he said.
In downtown Spokane, firefighters were again the focus of a 9/11 memorial. Nearly 260 firefighters from all over the Northwest signed up to climb 110 flights of stairs in the Bank of America building for the Spokane 9/11 Memorial Stairclimb. As they climbed, each firefighter carried the picture and biography of at least one of the 343 New York City Fire Department firefighters who died in the attack.
The event was only open to friends and family of the firefighters who participated. They packed the lobby to hear each firefighter ring a silver bell and then read the name of the fallen firefighter he or she was representing. Each firefighter climbed to the top of the building six times to equal the 110 flights of stairs in the twin towers.
Some lined up in shorts and T-shirts, while others wore their full gear. Firefighters came from as far away as King County, Missoula and Moscow to participate. The distance was no deterrent, said South Pierce County Assistant Chief Sam Yount. “It means a lot to all of us,” he said. “The fire service is a pretty tight-knit brotherhood.”
But the event got off to a rocky start just after 8:30 a.m. when firefighters and their families were gathered outside the building. A man ran up, yelled obscenities and threw a box into the crowd of firefighters before running away, said assistant chief Brian Schaeffer. The crowd was moved inside the building as a precaution. Police tracked the man down and determined that he was having a medical problem that was making him behave abnormally, Schaeffer said. “He wasn’t himself, apparently,” he said. “The box was not a device.”
At the Spokane County Interstate Fair, a few hundred people took a break from the rides and food booths at 1:30 p.m. to participate in a memorial ceremony there. Uniformed representatives of nearly every branch of the military participated, as did members of the Spokane and Spokane Valley fire departments, Spokane and Kootenai county sheriff’s departments and the Washington State Patrol.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said one photo of the Sept. 11 attacks has always stuck with him. It was a picture of a firefighter going up the stairs of one of the towers while everyone else was heading down to escape. “He knew where he was going,” Knezovich said. “He did that for us.”
The ceremony included many elements of a firefighter memorial service, including a 21-gun salute, a 21-bell salute and the playing of taps. Bagpipers played “Amazing Grace” and ended with a lone bagpiper playing as he walked slowly away, the sound fading in the distance.
Members of the military and police departments in full dress uniform took turns standing vigil next to a memorial wreath. An elaborate changing of the guard ceremony occurred several times during the memorial service. At one point the crowd gasped as a woman with the Air Force finished the changing of the guard ceremony and then collapsed into the arms of several firefighters seated in the front row of the audience.
She was quickly loaded onto a backboard and taken to a nearby ambulance to be treated for heat exhaustion. The audience applauded her as she was carried away and several people said they were proud of her for completing the ceremony before collapsing. By the end of the ceremony the woman had recovered and left the grandstand area.