FAIRFIELD — Capt. Jeromy Nottingham and three other members of the Vacaville Fire Protection District stood staring somberly at the piece of steel that once helped hold together the World Trade Center in New York City.
“I was wondering how I would handle that kind of situation,” Nottingham said. “It’s hard to place yourself there, (but) it brings you a little closer seeing the steel.”
The 4-foot section of steel belonging to Rio Vista was on display during Fairfield’s two ceremonies remembering the fallen on the 10th anniversary of 9/11: A private ceremony at Station 37 on Pennsylvania Avenue and a public open house featuring a variety of rescue vehicles.
9/11 World Trade Center number facts
- 343 New York City firefighters killed
- 23 New York City police killed
- 37 Port Authority police killed
- Nearly 3,000 total deaths at the World Trade Center
- The rights to nearly 13,000 linear feet of World Trade Center steel given to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on in June 2002
- 2,500 applications received asking for a piece of the steel for memorials
- 1,300 applications approved
- 225 memorials currently completed throughout the U.S.
- 350,000 tons of World Trade Center steel requested
- The USS New York used seven tons in its construction (http://www.ussnewyork.com)
(Source: Rio Vista Fire Department)
The hour-long private ceremony brought together police and fire personnel and their families from all over Solano County. It also included representatives from Travis Air Force Base. The ceremony took place inside the engine bay and featured a backdrop of the station’s black and red hook and ladder truck.
The featured speaker was Robert J. Milmore, a retired New York firefighter with Rescue 5 on Staten Island who narrowly missed being a statistic that morning 10 years ago after he overslept — something he said he’d never done in his 19 years on the job.
He was given a choice of taking an extra shift on Tuesday or Friday. He chose that fateful Tuesday. When he overslept, he was told to just stay home and take the Friday shift instead. When the emergency calls began to pour in, it was shift change at Rescue 5 — two shifts were at the station, double the usual number but minus Milmore. All responded and all 11 died that day.
“Why was I given the gift of not being there that day?” Milmore said to the 100 to 150 people assembled at Fairifeld’s Station 37. “Why was I late that day?”
He said he believes he was spared that day because of the job ahead that needed to be done. He talked of the “profound grief” that followed in the days after the attacks. The sights and smells of what those days were like. He spoke of the stages of grief and walked the audience through them as he relived that day and the days following. He admits to still suffering from one of those stages of grief: depression. He said he has trouble sleeping and has night terrors.
“When I’m not crying, I’m a tough guy,” he said. “When I’m crying, I’m not tough.”
In addition to Milmore and other speakers, such as Mayor Harry Price, fire Chief Vince Webster and police Chief Walt Tibbet, the ceremony included a flyover of rescue helicopters, and the Scarlet Brigade bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.”
Pat Miller, whose son Jon Miller is a Fairfield firefighter, called the program “phenomenal.”
“It’s very sad to remember all of the fallen firefighters,” she said. It was necessary, she said, to remember.
“I think it’s very important to recognize the sacrifice they made for us and they do it every day,” said Cheryl Morales, Jon Miller’s girlfriend.
Originally planned to be a public program, Webster said logistics and economics kept the location at the fire station to save money.
“We would have had to have it at Armijo (High School) and that would have taxed the budget,” he said. Plans to have the open house weren’t as “fiscally challenging,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Robert Ruark, director of logistics for U.S. Central Command, gave the opening address at Station 37 for the open house. He commended the area on its “Esprit de Corps,” or cohesion in its united lock on patriotism. He also talked about the battle against terrorism and said “the enemy” underestimated the American people on Sept. 11, 2001.
“This enemy thought with 9/11 it could scare us,” he said. The “enemy,” he said, wasn’t counting on “American fortitude, courage and resolve.”
He said the catastrophic 9/11 event “sparked a revival of American patriotism.”
He reiterated that comment in an interview after the opening ceremony when he discussed the awakening of democracy and the surge of patriotism that accompanied that awakening.
“I don’t think the enemy really understands that freedom overtakes hatred,” he said. “Their message doesn’t resonate with anyone in the civilized world.”
He said that despite the 6,200 men and women lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are “still enlisting in droves.” He said he thinks it’s a direct correlation to 9/11 and to the fact that their “homeland was under attack.”
Ruark said that he sees progress in the war on terrorism, citing advances in laying a positive framework in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said with counterinsurgency “there will be no clear moment of victory.”
“It just goes away over time,” he said.
After Ruark’s visit to Station 37, he headed to the open house along Civic Center Drive, which featured various rescue agencies from throughout Solano County, a hot dog lunch, which benefited the New York Fire and Police Widows and Children’s Benefit Fund, and various demonstrations.
“(This) gives everyone a chance to remember,” said Sherry Portugal, who was there with her 7-year-old daughter. “So nobody can forget what happened and what still can happen.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected]