Fesperman honors fallen with tattoo

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 9, 2011

By Shavonne Potts
SALISBURY — Two weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Rick Fesperman, his wife Amy, and two other couples tentatively boarded an airplane for a planned vacation.
Security measures at airports and many other facilities were much tighter following the terrorist attacks.
“It made us all aware that our everyday, normal life had changed so much,” Fesperman said.
Fesperman was at the Salisbury Fire Department the day of the attacks where he served as assistant fire chief. He has since retired after 31 years with the department.
It was his decision to place the department on alert that day, he said, because at first no one knew the reason for the attack or what other cities may be targeted.
“We didn’t know,” he said.
He believes the events of Sept. 11 made everyone more aware of their surroundings.
“Even 10 years later, people are more wary,” Fesperman said.
Like the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he said, Sept. 11 is a tragic event that will never be forgotten.
And Fesperman wanted his own permanent way to pay tribute to lives lost that day. So he decided to have an existing tattoo modified to include images of Sept. 11.
Fesperman didn’t begin getting inked until later in life. He never wanted to get just any tattoo, especially one he would regret later. He wanted a meaningful one and has added more since the first.
In 2000, Fesperman had a tattoo created on his left arm with a fire shield and two intertwined hoses. Two years later, to he added “343,” the number of firefighters killed responding after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
The tattoo also shows the New York skyline, the Statute of Liberty and Trade Center towers.
He waited to get the tattoo until authorities finalized the number of firefighters who died that day.
“I wanted that as a memory for myself,” he said.
Fesperman believes that day should never be forgotten.
“I would like to think it will remain on the forefront. I think it should be,” he said.
He also thinks Americans should never “let our guard down.”
“I don’t mean live in fear, but be aware of surroundings,” he said.
Things have changed over the years, even in the firefighting world, Fesperman said.
“From our standpoint, we had to look at our security a little tighter,” he said.
The aftermath of the terrorist attacks also changed the way citizens look at their own surroundings and the way first responders operate, Fesperman said.
At that time, first responders and law enforcement were looked at as “the homefront protection,” whereas the military was the overseas protection, he said.
Most firefighters don’t look at it that way, he said. “We are not heroes.”
Nevertheless, he said, all firefighters appreciate when people say “thank you.”
He does think sometimes nowadays emergency personnel and other first responders are forgotten.
“It’s not as prominent, but it is still there,” he said.
Although he’s retired, Fesperman still attends the memorials in full dress uniform.
He’ll attend the city’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at the Salisbury-Rowan Firefighters’ Memorial.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.