Emergency workers remember fallen

September 12, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Charles Weidner was only one of dozens of emergency workers who took part in remembrance ceremonies in Washington County on Saturday, but the day was a special one for him.

Weidner, 35, of Keedysville, said he was roofing in Frederick on Sept. 11, 2001, when he got a phone call that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

"I was, like, speechless," Weidner said.

Weidner said volunteering as a firefighter had occurred to him before, but he never had. It now has been six months since he joined the Potomac Valley Volunteer Fire Co. in Sharpsburg.


"I guess it just took a big kick like that for me to get motivated," Weidner said.

Weidner rode with a team of fellow firefighters on a truck Saturday as part of a ceremony that began at City Park in Hagerstown.

Four saplings were planted by fire, police and military representatives on a hillside near the park's lake. Then, more than three dozen firetrucks, ambulances and police cruisers rolled out through the park, down Virginia Avenue.

After making a turn onto Halfway Boulevard, the procession turned into Valley Mall, where the vehicles rode underneath a flag draped from the ladder of the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway's truck.

There, more speeches, prayers and a wreath-laying ceremony took place inside the mall.

While the ceremonies were designed to evoke the memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, those who attended said they stood as a reminder of what has changed since then.

Steve Rose was one of the wreath layers. From Annapolis, he's a reservist with the U.S. Marine Corps 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, based near Fort Detrick in Frederick County.

Rose, 35, said his company often is asked to attend ceremonies because of the equipment they bring with them. On Saturday, they had an amphibious assault vehicle, a light-armored carrier and a Humvee.

"So I've been to a lot. ... But this one is special," Rose said.

Rose said it hasn't even been a year since he returned from serving in Iraq, and he might be called to do so again next spring. The loss of a friend - Lance Cpl. Gregory "Mac" MacDonald - in an accident in Iraq still weighs heavily on his mind.

"It's difficult to reconcile that loss, and at the same time, he believed in being there," Rose said.

Garman Bowers of Fairplay, played "Taps" at the end of the wreath-laying ceremony. He said he volunteered to because "it is really important to remember."

Bowers, 15, said he was in his eighth-grade homeroom when his school virtually shut down after the 9/11 attacks. He said he feels he already has learned lessons from 9/11: "Live life the way you want to live it, and make it worth something."

Bev Witmer, a paramedic with the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway, said the losses that emergency agencies had three years ago often are talked about in her fire hall.

"It's a risk that we take every day," said Witmer, 30. "(The 9/11 attacks) was a big event, but every day is a risk."

Andrew West, a captain at the Washington County Office of Special Operations, was standing at a table at Valley Mall on Saturday, showing new devices his office has bought since the attacks.

On the table were toxin detection machines, lab equipment, a clear plastic box with rubber gloves sealed to the box for suspicious letter opening and a gas mask.

Behind the table was a yellow, plastic body suit designed to protect against harmful chemicals.

West said all the equipment has been bought in the last three years with the help of federal, state and local grants.

"Things have changed a lot," West said.

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