Firefighters, rescuers mourn colleagues lost on 9/11

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 12, 2011

By Shavonne Potts
SALISBURY — Gail Spry’s T-shirt conveyed a powerful message about the legacy of 9/11.
“My Sons are Firefighters” stretched across her back. She wore the shirt at a memorial service Sunday morning where many gathered to pay tribute to those emergency workers who died following the terrorist attacks 10 years ago and honor those — who like her sons — still serve.
Her son, Michael, is a Salisbury firefighter. Another son, Darrell, is a firefighter in Kannapolis.
She attended the service in honor of her sons, and to commemorate the rescuers who perished during the terror attacks a decade ago.
“I do this to honor all of them,” she said of the fallen.
“We come together to honor our heroes,” told Lennie Cooper, Rowan County Emergency Services division chief, told the crowd.
Cooper recounted the sheer volume of emergency personnel killed on that clear, September day.
He also spoke about how rescue agencies work so much more closely in the years after the attacks, fostering camaraderie.
“As we have trained together, we have grown together,” Cooper said.
He charged the emergency officials to “be proud, be brave, be safe.”
In 2009, the Salisbury Fire Department made its request to obtain artifacts from the World Trade Center and have since become one of 10,000 communities to receive items.
In April, the department acquired two 8-foot steel beams. A month later, the department unveiled the pieces of steel, not knowing the white markings on one corner meant more than just random lines.
A retired New York firefighter who took part in the ground zero rescue efforts explained what the markings meant. That firefighter was in Salisbury for the Brotherhood Ride earlier this month.
The markings were made by a rescue worker at ground zero who had found a body or human remains during a rough search following the terrorist attacks.
After marking a location, rescuers would return later for a more thorough search.
“We have no indication what tower this beam came from,” Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell said following the ceremony.
The beam is mounted to a trailer that was refurbished by members of the fire department. The red and gold painted trailer also has a plaque inscribed with “In Honor of the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001.”
The piece of steel will have a permanent place somewhere at the Salisbury-Rowan Firefighters Memorial.
It hasn’t been decided how the steel will be incorporated at the memorial site, but will be done with “dignity and class,” Parnell said.
The second steel beam will become a part of the fire training school facility at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
After Sept. 11 and in the subsequent years, there has been a surge of people who want to become emergency workers. There were 15 members of the firefighter training school in attendance Sunday.
Instructor Tanya Rogers said their presence was important for them to “remember the ones who went before them.”
Rogers is also a volunteer firefighter and her husband is a firefighter in Salisbury.
The significance of training new firefighters means that “tradition will be carried out,” Rogers said.
Some joined fire departments, while others joined emergency or public safety agencies. Many enlisted in the military.
Representatives of all attended Sunday’s service. Others in the crowd have long hung up their shields, caps and uniforms. Others came to remember loved ones lost in the line of duty.
The ceremony was special for longtime school teacher Sandra Hartman, now retired, because she taught many of the firefighters and policemen who participated in the ceremony.
Her son, David, served in the National Guard. “The fact that it affected our whole country. It really changed our world.”
The Salisbury native’s grandson, Dylan Argueta, 7, sat beside her during the ceremony. She said it was important for Dylan to witness the ceremony because “it’s an important part of his history.”
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.