More than 30 citizens and public service officials gathered outside the Newton Fire Department’s garage doors Monday night, paying their respects to those who lost their lives 17 years ago during the 9/11 attacks.
The Annual Memorial Service featured a speech from Newton Mayor Mike Hansen, as well as award presentations for Firefighter of the Year and Community Service Advocate of the Year.
“Like many other significant events in our lives, and in our nation’s history, we remember where we were and what we were doing. At the time, I was working for the Newton Community School District, and my co-worker,s and I had gathered at the bus garage for our morning break,” Hansen said in his opening lines. “No one at this time thought this was anything but a tragic accident. Until the second plane flew into the south tower. We looked at each other in disbelief. This is no accident — America is under attack.”
After the mayor’s speech, Community Service Advocate of the Year honors went to Beau Church, a pastor at Community Heights Alliance Church who spends his few free moments with firefighters every Friday night on their calls. Firefighter of the Year honors went to Matthew Hagar, who was absent due to a recent move to California.
Rex Heisdorffer, Emergency Medical Services captain, said Hagar earned the award for his creative ideas to advance the fire department and for helping them raise a significant amount of money to purchase base needs to keep firefighters equipped.
“It’s for someone in our department that goes above and beyond for the community, and not just for our department,” Heisdorffer said. “(Hagar) helped bring some new patient treatment medicines into our protocols. He also helped with writing a couple of successful grants toward getting us some new equipment for treating and caring for patients.”
Onlookers of all ages listened to the speeches and were treated to cake and conversation after the ceremony. One of the guests was Brenda Cohen, who attended the annual event for the first time.
Cohen said she was living in New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2001, watching her television in disbelief.
“I felt sadness. It was terrible. I could picture the towers, and I remember seeing all the firefighters in the city in the smog, and all the people running,” Cohen said. “There were friends of my family that worked in one of the towers, and they died.
“These men give their lives for us every day, and they are servants of the Lord,” Cohen added about the ceremony. “That’s why I came, to thank each one of them.”
Several of the younger guests were not alive on that day 17 years ago to watch the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacks on television. Lola Rivera, an 11-year-old student at Berg Middle School, spent much of the day talking about the now-historic event with her classmates and teachers.
Rivera said the Newton Fire Department ceremony was very nice, despite the day being a tragic remembrance. Rivera was born on Sept. 11, six years after the attacks and learned over the years what the event means to so many Americans.
“We had to do a project on what time stuff happened and make a timeline,” Rivera said. “We watched a few videos of what happened and what people were experiencing and how long it took for them to do things.
“Based on all that, I think the security in airports and stuff is harder for them to get into like they did before,” Rivera added.
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