First responders from both sides of the border gathered this morning at Peace Arch Park to honour those who gave their lives to help others during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and those who, 16 years later, continue to serve and protect, both in their own backyard, and around the world.
Police, firefighters, paramedics, politicians and civilians converged on the international border between South Surrey, B.C. and Blaine, Wash., to remember a tragedy that both devastated and strengthened.
“On Sept. 11, my department lost 23 members. Matt’s lost 343,” New York Police Department Sgt. Kevin Lynch told the crowd, referring also to the enormous impact the attacks – which killed nearly 3,000 that day – had on the city’s fire department, which was represented Monday by Matthew Zimpfer.
“Think about those numbers for a minute, because a number’s just a number until you think about the fact that each one of those people had a family that they cared about, had people they loved and people who loved them.
“But they did what first responders always do, and that’s run to whoever needs help.”
One after another, speakers stood, acknowledging the “heartbreaking and devastating acts of violence” of that day, but returning always to give thanks and acknowledge the partnerships and resolve that strengthened in the wake of the tragedy.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Blaine area port Director Kenneth Williams posed, and answered, the question, “are we truly safer?”
“I can stand here with confidence and say yes,” Williams said, citing improvements in security measures in the years since 9/11, and ones to come.
“For those who wish to do us harm, we are sending a clear message.”
Vancouver Police Department Supt. Mike Porteous said that while the border may divide the U.S. and Canada, “we are human beings and fellow first responders, brothers and sisters.”
“Together we stand in the face of tragedy, remembering our fallen heroes and carrying on in their names. We will remember,” Porteous said.
South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts, representing Canada in the ceremony, echoed the call to “always remember” those who died.
U.S. Consul General Katherine Dhanani said the day was to remember “those brave men and women who gave everything for strangers they never knew simply because it was in them to respond as heroes.”
Lynch told the crowd that he doesn’t feel like a hero for his actions on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I feel like a person who did my job, and I think that’s what every first responder would mention when asked why they do it,” he said.
“It was a horrible day for us, as a city, as a nation and as a world, but in the days, and the weeks, months and the years that have followed, it’s brought out the best in the human spirit.”