No event in modern times compares to 9/11 in terms of first responder line-of-duty-death (LODD) significance. Even so, the events of 9/11 are sadly fading in the memories of some fire and EMS personnel, as are the memories of other milestone fire events.
In my 2019 article “Sharing the lessons of 9/11 with the newest generation,” I observed that some firefighters entering our ranks had not yet been born on 9/11. It’s no wonder the memories fading from the fire service’s collective consciousness.
So, how do we keep the memories – and ongoing support – at the forefront of our minds?
A mindset shift
My father used to admonish me to “never say never,” specifically to stay positive no matter the trial or tribulation. Certainly, easier said than done – yet words to live by. I have carried that mantra with me over the years, choosing whenever possible to display an encouraging demeanor as opposed to a negative one.
But what about “Never Forget” – the phrase we use with respect to the sacrifice of the 343 firefighters, 64 police officers, and 12 EMS professionals who died on 9/11? The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) has embraced the “Never Forget” mantra for years to support the families of the fallen 343. I believe that it is through always remembering one simple fact that we can never forget our fallen brother and sister firefighters. Allow me to explain.
In building a culture of remembrance within the fire service, we must first understand the unfortunate reality that firefighter LODDs still occur on a regular basis – about one every few days. Fortunately, the NFFF offers myriad programs and services for LODD families, departments and individual members. It is critical to understand that each of these LODD events are not “one-off” or single-day events. You don’t need to look any further than New York to understand what I mean. Twenty-one years later, the NFFF is still a part of the healing and recovery culture in New York City. Along with the IAFF and other assisting agencies, the NFFF will continue to assist firefighters’ families and the department, as long as the need exists. That same year-round assistance goes into every single LODD, regardless of where it is at or when it happens.
Step by step, year by year
9/11 memorial stair-climb events have become the symbolic remembrance for the firefighters lost in the 110 collapsed floors of the Twin Towers. The NFFF supports many such events around the country – events that have raised over $5.5 million for the foundation in the past 5 years alone. During those 5 years, over 60,000 participants have registered to climb, walk or simply donate to the effort. Find a list of upcoming stair-climb events.
Climbs in those five years have taken place in all 50 states, plus Canada and Guam. COVID put a damper on 2020 numbers, but the 2021 registrations were the highest of the past five years, likely a reflection of recognition of the 20th anniversary. Two of the stair-climb events stand above the others, with Redrock, Colorado (coordinated by the NFFF Advisory Group) and Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin (coordinated by Pierce Manufacturing), both trading top honors over the past few years as the number one and number two fundraising stair climbs for the NFFF.
Now that we’ve passed the 9/11 20-year milestone anniversary, it’s more important than ever to ensure that everyone understands that fundraising, while often rooted in the memory of 9/11, goes well beyond this singular event. Recognizing that there are many fundraising needs for every department to consider, finding a way for every fire department to have an NFFF fundraiser of some kind would go miles toward ongoing support.
Further, I encourage fire academies to continue including instruction on 9/11 and LODDs in general. This should include both the historical references and the lessons learned from specific situations. I also strongly support academies and academy classes “adopting” a cause that supports the reduction of LODDs. Maybe the class coordinates a stair climb or helps build public support for smoke alarms and residential sprinklers through community engagement. Maybe volunteers time to assist the NFFF at memorial weekend or other events. The opportunities to help us cultivate a remembering culture are endless.
The NFFF has partnered with many industry and allied partners to arrange sponsorships and raise funding for many of the stair climbs and other events. In addition to many corporate partners, the NFFF has connected with the IAFC, IAFF, NVFC, CFSI, NFPA, and many other federal, state and local allied agencies and departments. I encourage all of you to remember the ongoing need for fallen firefighter family support and find an NFFF fundraising event near you.
Where we go from here
As we get further from 9/11 – or further from any critical event – it will become more and more difficult to “never forget.” The number one way we “never forget” is to remember that firefighter LODDs, while not inevitable, are chronically routine, so we must continue to support groups like the NFFF, working every day, month and year to help firefighter families and to help reduce LODDs. The number two way is to never say never, but rather to ALWAYS REMEMBER.