In commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, residents are reminded to keep in mind the sacrifices and bravery of firefighters.
City and county boards presented proclamations, in honor of Cherokee County firefighters’ service in the community, as part of Firefighter Appreciation Week, from Sept. 8 through Sept. 14.
Many officials, including the Canton City Council, Woodstock City Council, Cherokee County Board of Commissioners and Cherokee County Board of Education proclaimed the week of remembrance.
“Our firefighters demonstrate acts of heroism in rescuing citizens from the threat of fire and often enter burning structures to bring them out to safety and medical treatment,” Mayor Donnie Henriques and the Woodstock City Council said in their proclamation, presented to firefighters at the meeting on Sept. 5. “Our firefighters work dangerous accident scenes on our roads and streets, risking their own safety to extricate victims from vehicles.”
Lt. Chris Durden has been a firefighter since 1988 and has worked with the Woodstock Fire Department since 1999. Durden said he vividly remembered his shock, while watching the 2001 attacks happen on TV.
“We knew it was too clear, it couldn’t have been a mistake, it had to be an attack,” Durden said, remembering what went through his head as he watched the events unfold on live TV with his fellow firefighters. “You knew there were guys in that building, going up to rescue other people. You knew there were guys climbing 80-something floors to fight that fire.”
Durden said that as the day progressed, and it became obvious that what was happening was a terrorist attack, the shock set in.
“I think the whole country was put on a higher alert,” he said. “You didn’t know what was going to happen or where it was going to happen.”
Durden struggled to find words to describe what he had felt, as he watched his sisters and brothers in emergency services in New York City die trying to save others’ lives.
“At first, you can’t believe that many people, civilians, firefighters, public safety workers, can lose their life at one time,” he said. “And you think about all the families they left behind … brothers, sisters, mothers, dads. Sorrow, pain, pain for them as firefighter brothers and sisters, just an unreal feeling. It’s really hard to describe.”
Durden remembered vivid details of what happened on that Tuesday morning when he watched the attacks take place.
“I was on the clock, I was in a driver’s class that morning. It was the city of Woodstock’s very first driver’s class, Tuesday morning,” Durden said. “We were in the middle of class, somebody came in the room and said ‘An airplane just hit the World Trade Center tower.’”
“It was a clear day here, it was cool, the sun was out, the sun was bright. I remember I had watched the news that morning, and it was the same way in New York, it was a clear, sunny, cool morning,” he recalled. “Immediately I thought to myself that something was wrong.”
At the time, Woodstock Fire Chief Dave Soumas was the assistant fire chief, Durden said.
“Class stopped instantly, and we all went into Chief Soumas office and started watching TV,” Durden said. “We were watching TV in his office when the second plane hit. And then we knew, in no way is that an accident.”
Durden said that he felt “connected,” like he “needed to go up there and help.” He said that any firefighter would feel that way, no matter where the disaster happened.
“We’ve had a chance to listen to the radio traffic, walkie-talkie traffic between New York firefighters and their commanders,” Durden said. “And these guys were actually up above the 80th floor, trying to fight fire. And you can hear (them) talking, and you know these guys passed away in that collapse. But (they) were up there, rescuing lives, fighting fire and doing what they’re trained to do, knowing that was going to be their last fire. That was amazing.”