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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘The hardest day’: Spokane honors ‘the ones who ran to the danger’ on 20th anniversary of 9/11

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 11, 2021

Thomas O’Hagan, Kenneth Watson, Michael Carlo, Charles Mendez – the list of names seemed to never end.

Spokane Valley Deputy Fire Chief Frank Soto Jr. read Saturday morning every single name of each firefighter who died trying to save innocent people from the burning towers of the World Trade Center.

Even after 20 years, hearing the names of the 343 fallen firefighters still brought people to tears.

“Firefighters are confronted with the most dangerous environments known to mankind,” Soto Jr said. “Sometimes there are terrible costs.”

The name reading was part of a remembrance ceremony Saturday morning at the Spokane Valley Fire Department administrative building to honor the firefighters who died on 9/11. The ceremony was conducted in front of a stark memento of the tragic day: a column from one of the Twin Towers.

The column, which weighs 1,200 pounds, offered a glimpse of the scale and destruction of the attack. Dented and burned, the massive piece has marks from where it was torn away in the collapse and still has remnants of fire retardant.

The column, number M009c, was given to SVFD by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

After the names were read, a bell was rung in a pattern used in the days before radios and alarms to mark the death of a firefighter.

The pattern of ringing used, known as ‘Striking the Four Fives,’ is specific to the New York City Fire Department and was done on Saturday at the exact time the South Tower fell 20 years ago.

“They were the ones who ran to the danger,” said Diana Wilhite, a former Spokane Valley mayor who was at the ceremony. “We’re just so grateful.”

The SVFD ceremony wasn’t the only event commemorating 9/11 first responders in Spokane. The El Khatif Shriners and First Responders Club also held a memorial at their headquarters with active law enforcement and firefighters, including Spokane police K9, SWAT and hostage units.

Mike Castelan, a Shriners member who organized the event, said the memorial wasn’t just for the first responders who died on 9/11.

“It’s probably the hardest day for all of us,” said Castelan, a former firefighter.

First responders who worked on 9/11 and the days after to clear the rubble and put out flames have been subject to an increasing number of health effects due to toxins in the air after the buildings collapsed.

“Along with everybody that perished on 9/11, more than 2,000 first responders have died as a result of working on that pile, and they continue to die,” Castelan said.

Like other years, many people who attended the ceremonies spent the time sharing stories of where they were when the towers came down.

Many of the stories presented a reminder of how everyday Americans across the country did their small but vital part in keeping people safe on that day.

“I had to keep the kids calm,” said Heather Overton, a Spokane Valley resident who was working a before-care program at an elementary school in Phoenix on 9/11. “We all wanted to rush home, but I had to make sure each kid got picked up.”

The World Trade Center column at the SVFD ceremony will remain in the lobby of the administrative building, reminding firefighters of what they’re prepared to do each and every day.

“This is who we are,” Soto Jr said. ”This is our chosen profession.”

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