In an annual tradition started by Mayor Ronnie Williams two years ago ago, Garner sponsored a breakfast to commemorate 9/11 and, in particular, acknowledge local emergency responders.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison delivered the keynote speech, urging the more than 100 guests – many in police, fire and EMS uniforms – not to forget. He praised the work of first responders.
Harrison said that a decade ago the gym would have been packed, implying that some had already forgotten the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and he compared forgetting 9/11 to resuming dangerous driving habits after a fatal car accident in the community.
He also said first responders would be needed in a catastrophe again somewhere in the country, possibly even North Carolina.
“Sept. 11 was a wake-up call for all of us,” Harrison warned. He’d later add: “It’s not if it happens again, it’s when. There are a lot of America haters out there.”
The event at Garner First Baptist Church, also attended by town elected officials and staff among other Garner residents, featured a free breakfast, music and other ceremonies. Abel Grande opened the event with a prayer.
Denise Nowell performed the national anthem. Singer Dave Kamphuis and guitarist Alfred Ward performed a pair of 9/11-themed country songs: “Where Were You” by Alan Jackson and “Everyday Heroes” by Dave Carroll. Former Garner Outstanding Teen Rachel Chavez performed “On my Knees.”
Shortly after, Garner Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Matt Poole formally ordered the ringing of the three symbolic bells that signal the end of a call to duty for a firefighter. Bagpiper and Fire Captain Mike Bishop then played Amazing Grace.”
Williams said the event, along with honoring emergency responders, served as a reminder of how communities come together in tragedy. It didn’t matter, he said, that Garner wasn’t directly affected by the event.
Garner Police Chief Brandon Zuidema also spoke briefly, extolling the work of emergency workers. He said it was a shame that it took a massive tragedy to generate mass awareness and appreciation for such professions.
“It’s not how these people died that makes them heroes; it’s how they lived.,” Zuidema said of the more than 400 emergency workers who died that day.
Jeff Hammerstein, Wake EMS district chief who delivered the keynote address last year, attended and later said emergency personnel now work together better than in the past thanks to lessons learned that day.
Harrison also said people take their safety for granted, thinking such violence only happens overseas.
He also cited several instances, many of them local to Garner, of emergency workers performing their duties. Among them were authorities talking down a gunman on Aug. 16, 2010 and a deputy diving into a creek off U.S. 401 to rescue victims after a fatal car crash.
“People ask why would somebody do (these jobs),” Harrison said. “I guess the simple answer is that’s what we do.”
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland