Thursday, September 11, 2008

Memorial Service for 9/11

Sombre memorial services for the firefighter victims of 9/11 were held at all fire stations across San Francisco early this morning.

In the dimmed light of almost 7 am firefighters stood respectfully in the streets and read out the names of all 343 of their comrades.

'It means a lot to us because 343 of our firefighter brothers died. Every year we hold the ceremony at the same exact time when the second plane hit - 6.59 am in San Francisco and 9.59 am in New York - and we have the flag put to half mast all day long,' said Battalion Chief Kirk Richardson.

Battalion Chief Richardson was speaking at his unit in Bluxome Street, just off 4th Street.

At the completion of the roll call, a firefighter on the roof of the station solemnly tolled a bell three times and lowered the flag to half mast. There then followed a minute's silence.

Fire Chief Richardson said no members of this unit were directly involved in the tragedy but members from the Battalion spent quite a few weeks there helping in the recovery effort.

'A lot went to attend funerals,' he said.

Members of the public were invited to attend the memorial services. In the quiet side street here, three people paused and joined in while a few others drove slowly past.

Eric Barnes stopped on his way to work. 'I think it was very nice. Very touching to listen to,' he said.

But he was angry at former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani. 'They - the firefighters - didn't have to die. Rudy Giuliani refused year after year to buy a decent set of radios. They warned him they could not communicate on the walkie talkies they had in tall buildings and Giuliani told them '"No", they could not have a new communication system.'

Firefighters pressed their case and eventually Giuliani acceded, but gave a 'no-bid contract' to a friend who provided a system that was no better than the old one, said Eric.

'The enormous loss of life of firefighters was due to the fact they could not hear the evacuation orders before the buildings collapsed.'

I put this point to Battalion Chief Richardson.

'Communications could have been better but wouldn't have prevented the tragedy,' he said. 'There were no communications between the police and firefighters.'

The police, he added, had a helicopter in the air and so had a better view and were able to give evacuation orders to their officers. But he stressed that 'no-one knew the Twin Towers were going to come crashing down.'

'Communications are always a problem. It is to this day, pretty much for all the emergency services. We're still trying to work our way through it but it's gotten a lot better,' he said.

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