Flags for the fallen

Williston PD and FD plan joint ceremony on 9/11

Sept. 8, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

Williston Assistant Fire Chief Doug Hulbert unpacks miniature American flags that will be used in a special weekend ceremony to honor firefighters and police officers who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2011. (Observer photo by Adam White)

The Williston Fire and Police departments will hold a joint ceremony on Sunday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Personnel from the departments will place a miniature American flag at the appropriate Williston service headquarters for each firefighter and police officer that lost his or her life during the attacks and aftermath at the World Trade Center in New York City and at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The flags will number 343 at the Fire House and 60 at the Police Station.

“They cannot be forgotten,” said Ginger Morton, a 20-year veteran dispatcher with the WFD who is co-coordinating the event with WPD officer Bill Charbonneau. “This being the 10th anniversary, we wanted to do something a little bit special.”

That unique element will come via service personnel reading a list of names of firefighters and police officers that were killed in the line of duty during the past year.

“Fire and police people have a tendency to stick together, look out for one another and honor one another,” Morton said.

The ceremony will also include the chiming of bells at 9:59 a.m., to correspond with the time that the first of the Twin Towers fell in NYC.

“It is traditional with fire departments, when they are commemorating someone’s death, to have bells ringing,” Morton said.

Morton said organizers have stepped up their efforts to increase awareness about the 10th anniversary ceremony.

“We’ve given it more publicity, because we want to make sure the public knows about it,” she said. “Should they want to honor the occasion, we would be happy to have them join us.”

Though the local fire and police departments were not directly affected by the events of 9/11, the memory of that day is still fresh in the minds of Willistonians.

“I will never forget the horror of it,” said Morton, who was driving a delivery truck that morning and heard about the events through a telephone call from a co-worker. “I just couldn’t fathom — still can’t fathom — how someone could do something like that.”

Assistant fire chief Doug Hulbert was also working that morning, and didn’t catch up on the details of the attacks until he sat down in front of a television later that day. Hulbert said that as a firefighter, he focused in part on the challenges facing emergency response personnel during the aftermath of the attacks.

“You do think about that, and how you would handle it,” Hulbert said. “But what you saw that day, compared to what we actually do here (in Williston), it’s a big difference.”

Morton’s husband, Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton, was at Fletcher Allen Health Care when he first got word of the attacks — and like Hulbert, he viewed the scene with a firefighter’s eye that allowed him to at least partially push a more emotional response to the back burner.

“The first thing I thought about was the scope of the emergency, how the firefighters were responding and what they were dealing with,” he said. “But in the back of my mind, I was thinking about how catastrophic it was.”

Morton’s wife said that many emergency response personnel likely used the same mindset to help stay emotionally grounded through what was the most devastating terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our country’s history.

“For people like that, it’s a natural response,” she said. “You stay focused on what you know, and it helps you put one foot in front of the other and get through it.”

Fire and police departments across the country are scheduled to conduct special ceremonies commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The ceremony at Ground Zero in NYC will reportedly include appearances from both current President Barack Obama and then-President George W. Bush.

Also expected to attend are Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City.