Harriet Freiberger: Remembering Sept. 11
What happened in New York City 14 years ago now flashes on and off screens amid all the rest of our daily digital bombardment. The past, some say, is over and done, but the numbers speak otherwise. Even as far away as Routt County, we can hear what they say.
Above the din of disagreements over blame and politics and agendas, something bigger echoes across our country. Two numbers, arranged and rearranged, speak to that something: 911, one of the first things children learn; one of the last things old people remember. It is our call for help.
On Sept. 11, 2001, no one had to make that call. Two airplanes did that for us. Looking back now, we have a clear visual of what emergency response means.
Within minutes, medical teams went under alert. When buses and trains halted and communication failed, police officers maintained incredible order. Firefighters from all five boroughs donned their gear and jumped aboard vehicles that sped toward the southern tip of Manhattan.
Men closest and first on the scene penetrated smoking heat in the world’s two tallest buildings to begin rescue operations, climbing up stairs and hauling hose, each one carrying some 60 pounds of gear. Those who arrived later walked over and around body parts of men and women who had jumped from blazing upper stories.
With falling debris hitting the ground like shrapnel, Ground Zero pulled thousands of emergency responders into its midst. During 102 minutes, before two towers imploded with fire and crashed to the ground, some 12,000 people escaped death.
Out of all who went in to help others, 403 never came out — 343 firefighters, 23 police officers from New York City and 37 Port Authority police officers. We pause on this September day to honor them and to appreciate all the men and women who answer our calls for help. For them and for us, 9-11 and 911, the numbers speak.
Who are they, the people who, at the least, jeopardize their own health and safety, and at most, risk their lives, in response to the needs of others? In New York City and across this country, they work for a purpose that unites us as Americans, that which our Constitution establishes as government’s primary function, the common defense.
Here in our valley, they are sons and daughters of neighbors we’ve known for years; friends who live down the road; folks we see at the grocery or at church. They are youngsters who have grown up with a very special mind-set, a way of seeing that propels them forward into danger when the rest of us are running away.
Even with all of today’s negativism about law enforcement, we continue to rely upon officers who respond when we touch those numbers, 9-1-1. They have trained for years to become our rescuers.
Some of us have stood helpless as flames spread outward from a stove and leapt upward toward a roof, then breathed with relief at firefighters’ arrival. Others have pumped failing hearts or twisted tourniquets until medics hurried in with life-saving expertise. Only a few of us, thank goodness, have experienced the threat of physical intrusion into our homes, but 9-1-1 has never failed to answer.
The shock wave that hit New York City and spread around the globe on 9-11 has marked our calendars with a connection to the past, a reminder of what we too often take for granted. Today we can share, not that which pulls us apart, but rather the unifying recognition of what is good and right. Our first responders teach us.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982. On Friday, Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m., the community will gather at the Yampa River Botanic Park. It will be a time to remember accompanied by music without words. All are welcome.
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Sherry Burlingame never imagined herself as a chief of police.