Flashback 9-11: Hands across the border

September 07, 2011
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the November 2001 issue of Fire Fighting in Canada.

In the wake of the terrible Sept. 11 tragedy in the United States, the Canadian fire service has reacted in hundreds of different ways. The most common reaction has been to raise funds for the families of the 343 New York City firefighters and paramedics who lost their lives in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

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Pumper 943 from Verdun/LaSalle, Que., responds to a fire. The U.S. flag honours the fallen FDNY firefighters.  Photo by Lorne Ulley
 
Those firefighters lost their lives running in when everyone was running out. Never before had the world realized just what danger firefighters and other emergency services personnel face every day. But those brave souls were just doing their jobs. At the end of the day, if there is anything positive to come out of this sad, sad time, it is that the resilience and important work done by the fire service is at the forefront of our citizens’ minds.

Flags at fire stations and firefighters’ homes flew at half-staff. Black ribbons were worn over the hearts of firefighters. Letters of support and sympathy were sent to New York or posted on websites from departments and associations across the country. Trucks were adorned with American and Canadian flags, black ribbons and red, white and blue ribbons. Some Canadian firefighters even travelled to New York City in the immediate aftermath, offering to help with the rescue operation. Others prepared to send equipment and personnel, waiting for the word from the FDNY on its needs. New apparatuses at manufacturers’ plants were placed on stand-by, ready to be shipped to New York.

In the end, the FDNY persevered, and most immediate aid from Canada, while gratefully acknowledged, was not, in the end, required.

But everyone wanted to help in some way, and the most obvious was to raise funds for the families of the fallen. The fire service hit the streets and businesses in their communities and was rewarded with an outpouring of financial support from the citizenry; from young children emptying their piggy banks to seniors on fixed incomes, many gave more than they could afford. No one was untouched by the tragic events and all did what they could for the 9-11 fund for the families of emergency personnel lost on Sept. 11.

Many firefighters donated blood, organized memorial services to help in the grieving, or held fundraisers for those families left to cope with the horror of what happened – the loss of a father or mother, son or daughter; so many sad stories. And they continue to protect their communities.

The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs dedicated its annual conference in September in memory of the firefighters lost in New York, and is raising funds through the sale of a video of the conference memorial service.

The National Fire & Life Safety Foundation, based in Brockville, Ont., has established a relief fund in conjunction with the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Public Fire Safety Council called Project Maple Leaf.

T-shirts, ball caps and other mementoes have been designed in memory of the Sept. 11 events and sold, with proceeds donated to the relief funds that have been established.

Across the country, stories pour in regarding the fire service’s reaction to Sept. 11. In Vancouver, more than 500 off-duty firefighters of IAFF Local 18 hit the streets in uniform for a 12-hour blitz to collect donations from citizens and businesses. Fire Chief Ray Holdgate suspended training drills for the day and provided his firefighters with the use of fire department vehicles to transport firefighters around the city and pick up donations. More than $600,000 was raised for the 9-11 fund.

In Edmonton, along with a relief fund established, a memorial service was held in September, one of many held across the country. Hundreds of firefighters, police officers and EMTs gathered from the city along with many from Calgary, Red Deer, Fort McMurray and several other Alberta communities.

Saskatoon held a similar service in early September at city hall. “They gave their best. Unfortunately the consequences were deadly,” Fire Chief Bill Hewitt told the media following the service. “Our job is to protect the heart and soul of our communities. We’re the first ones in and the last ones out.”

As of early October, the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg Local 867 had received about $40,000 in donations for its 9-11 fund. “We even had five children bring in $35 they raised selling Kool-Aid and doughnuts,” said union president Alex Forrest.

As well, every year in early November, Winnipeg firefighters hold a banquet and ball with proceeds given to various charities. Last year, the event raised about $25,000. The funds from this year’s evening will also go to the survivors of the terrorist attack, said Forrest.

In Thompson in northern Manitoba, the city’s 18 firefighters each contributed a portion of their salary to the cause and have collected other donations. Brandon’s firefighters also raised money for the victim’s families.

In Burlington, Ont., firefighters raised more than $130,000 in a weekend boot drive. They had hoped to raise $2,500 and were overwhelmed by their community’s support.

In the small village of Clifford, Ont., the volunteer fire department got together and held a drive-thru voluntary boot toll for the 9-11 relief fund. In just 2.5 hours on a Friday night, the community of 800 people donated $5,200. “It was amazing,” said Chief Dennis Kaufman of the reaction to his department’s hastily organized event.

Like many departments, the Boucherville, Que., firefighters’ association made up t-shirts and helmet decals in memory of the fallen FDNY fire fighters with all proceeds earmarked for the 9-11 relief fund and have taken orders from around the world.

In Fredericton, N.B., the firefighters association came up with a voluntary boot drive-thru at their headquarters station and ran it for three days with the full support of management. The first vice-president of the Local 1053 IAFF, Glen Sullivan, came up with the plan and Fire Chief Bert Fulsk didn’t hesitate to support the worthwhile endeavour. They raised more than $10,000 and the firefighters were recognized by their city council in a special public ceremony.

In the town of Oromocto, N.B., the municipal department, in conjunction with the CFB Gagetown fire department, held a car wash and boot drive. They raised close to $3,000 on one Saturday.

The Kingston Peninsula Volunteer Fire Department in New Brunswick placed a sign outside their hall reading “Our prayers are with the New York Fire Department.” The Sussex Fire Department collected more than 800 signatures and messages in a book of condolences that was forwarded to the Fire Department of New York.

Sunday masses were dedicated to firefighters and emergency workers at several churches. Wanting to do their part, the Chance Harbour Field of the United Baptist Church Youth Group organized a complete Sunday service, including musical selections, at the Dipper Harbour United Baptist Church to thank the members of the Musquash, N.B., Fire Department for their service to the communities.

Saint John firefighters held a boot drive and voluntary road toll raising more than $64,000. Firefighter Doug Trentowsky spoke on behalf of Local 771 of the IAFF. “Unreal,” he said, “the citizens of Saint John and the businesses that helped us out were phenomenal.” Saint John firefighters also served a breakfast in conjunction with the Delta Hotel, and held a benefit dance. Trentowsky expects the overall total raised to be near $75,000.

These stories are echoed in virtually every community and fire department in the country. It doesn’t end here. The events of Sept. 11 will not be forgotten.

We will remember them.


With files from Andrew Sanojca, Myron Love and James Haley.

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