9/11: A new generation learns to remember

DeKALB – Jeff McMaster wanted to make an impression on DeKalb’s youngest firefighters on Sept. 11.

DeKalb’s assistant fire chief selected a moving documentary, assembled a numbers-filled presentation and spoke passionately to a couple of dozen firefighters, civic leaders and residents who gathered in the basement classroom of Fire Station 1.

Late in the presentation, McMaster broke his cadence and called out to a firefighter seated in the second row to emphasize why he was taking an educational approach to a solemn anniversary.

“Adam, what grade were you in 12 years ago?” he asked.

The firefighter, Adam Miller, replied that he was in fifth grade.

As a new generation of firefighters replaces those who wore the uniform on that tragic day, the more experienced first responders have shouldered the task of teaching younger firefighters how that day changed the way they work – and why remembering is so important.

“We’ve always done a little memorial ceremony around the flagpole upstairs,” Fire Chief Eric Hicks said. “But we thought with the new personnel ... it’s good for these guys to hear some of that and see some of that.”

During his presentation, McMaster detailed the scale of the attacks’ impact on first responders. Not only were 343 firefighters and 23 police officers killed in the New York attacks, but more than 1,000 first responders have died since then from issues associated with their service that day, he said. The attacks have altered training and procedures as well as funding for first responders nationally, he said.

“We don’t want the actions of the first responders, the civilians, and military personnel to fade away,” McMaster told the room.

Sycamore Fire Department hosted a ceremony across from its main fire station. In front of a flag flying at half staff, first responders, leaders and civilians listened to prayers, had a moment of silence and heard a poem.

“I think that things like this help to focus attention on a tragedy that occurred in our country,” Fire Chief Pete Polarek said. “Hopefully, folks won’t forget, and we’re going to do out best to try and keep it out in front as long as we can.”

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