We promised to never forget.
When Newton Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik acknowledged the 343 American Flags placed around the memorial outside the fire station, one for each firefighter who died responding to the 9/11 attacks, it was proof we did not forget.
When the Newton Fire Department crews got together at 7:46 a.m. Saturday to ring a bell signifying the exact time when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, it was proof we did not forget.
When assistant fire chief Rex Heisdorffer rang the bell at different times during the station’s 9/11 ceremony to honor the deaths of first responders, it was done so at specific times coinciding with the towers falling, proof we did not forget.
Even though 20 years have passed since the towers fell, Americans still remember and mourn the nearly 3,000 people who died and the first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Newton commemorated the day with a fire engine displaying the American flag over West Fourth Street South, honor guard ceremonies, a 21-gun salute, bagpipes, words of inspiration and then silence.
“When we go back and we think through the events of that day, I don’t think anybody can say that they don’t remember exactly where they were or what they were doing at the time that this happened,” Wellik said.
The same thing could be said in generations past when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he added. Sometimes people forget these events happened, especially those who weren’t born at that time.
“It’s been 20 years since this happened. Twenty years is a long time. In fact there are many new recruits starting in the fire service today that weren’t even born when this happened,” Wellik said.
But the Newton Fire Department is committed to never forgetting what’s happened. The trucks are adorned with that motto: “Never forget.” Wellik said each year the station makes a concerted effort to remember.
“It’s difficult. It’s not something that comes easy,” he said. “For those people that lost their lives that day, there’s no way to go back. They can’t reset that day. Each and every day our people go to work in public safety to serve and protect.
“And they know that ‘serve and protect’ comes with a risk. And that risk is they may need to lay down their lives for those that they protect. That doesn’t come easy.”
That’s the reality for those who work in public safety.
After Wellik speaks to his on-duty employees every morning, he tells them to have a good day and be safe. Every day when he walks out of that room he feels like a father that has just put his 16-year-old child in a car and sent them off to the movies or sent them off with friends. And he worries.
“I worry about what’s going to happen to them that day,” he said. “You know, we don’t have a 108-story building that could be struck by an airplane, but we have things that are just as dangerous. Not every day do we go to fires.
“But we spend a lot of time on the interstate. Very dangerous places for our people to be. And every day we do that, we know we are helping people.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org