Leadership, Technical Rescue

NVFC Chairman Issues Statement on 10-Year Commemoration of 9/11

By Philip C. Stittleburg

Ten years ago, just after the terrorist attacks on our country, I wrote the following open letter to the fire service as chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC).


     The events of September 11, 2001 are indelibly etched on our memories, leaving us startled and pained. We mourn the loss of so many and so much, but most of all the loss of so many of our fire service colleagues. There is little I can say that hasn’t already been said. Still, I will try to share some thoughts that I hope will enable us to place our grief and anger in a positive context.
     The fire service epitomizes that which is noble in humankind. Above all else, it requires and champions the twin virtues of dedication and perseverance. While the statement that the fire service protects the lives and property of its neighbors may be overused, it is no less accurate for that. However, dedication to that mission sometimes comes at an awful cost. We have seen our fire service brothers and sisters pay the ultimate price for their dedication with unflinching courage.
     So we ask, “What can we do?” It would seem that there is so little that we can do directly. We probably can’t go to New York City and help sift through the rubble. We can donate to various memorial funds, but that seems so inadequate in relationship to the magnitude of these overwhelming events. And so we are left to ask again, “What can we do?”
     We can do what the fire service has always done – we can persevere. We can and will do that because that’s what we’ve been trained for and what we believe in. We know from our training that if we’re part of the incident response, we work to mitigate the damage. We also know that if we’re not part of the response, we stay out of the way and get on with our business.
     So we carry on. We persevere. We learn what lessons there are to be learned from this tragedy that may make us and those we command safer and more effective in the future. We apply this newfound knowledge purchased at such an awful cost to improve the safety of those we are bound to protect.
     Our fallen colleagues will be honored in all sorts of ways. There will be funerals and fund drives. Memorials will be constructed. However, there is one memorial that only the fire service can provide. This is the memorial created by continuing the work that they have started. They believed in their work and gave their lives in pursuit of that belief. The ultimate tribute to their sacrifice is to carry forward the torch that they have passed to us.
     Mere words can provide but little comfort. The true memorial, the lasting recognition that we can give to those who have too soon departed our ranks is to save the lives and property in the future that they will not be there to protect. Only we can carry on their dream. That’s how we honor them. That’s what we can do.

So ten years on, I ask, “Have we persevered?” Have we created our memorial? We all know that our work is never done, but we do see progress.

The ten years following 9-11 have seen an increase in the number of volunteer firefighters over the years immediately preceding the attacks. Programs such as Fire Corps have given members of the public an opportunity to contribute their services to their local fire departments in non-emergency roles and encouraged them to share in the pride of public service. The importance of the fire service generally and the volunteer sector in particular to homeland security has at last been recognized. Many volunteer fire departments are much better equipped and trained today thanks to an infusion of dollars through various federal programs. We have decreased the number of annual firefighter deaths. President Obama has proclaimed September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance, encouraging the public to volunteer.  

Over the past ten years, we have persevered and progressed. No, our memorial is not yet completed, but it is definitely under construction. Keep building.

For more on the NVFC, visit http://www.nvfc.org/.