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9/11 a 'defining moment' for first responders

Robert Houk • Sep 12, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Police, fire and emergency personnel from Johnson City joined members of Kings Mountain Post 24 of the American Legion on Tuesday to salute first responders and to honor victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks 17 years ago.

The remembrance ceremony was held at the Memorial Park Community Center’s amphitheater.

Bryan Lauzon, commander of the American Legion, said the event was to pay respect to the more than 3,000 victims who died in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania, as well as to honor the first responders who worked for weeks at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

Lauzon said more than 2,500 police, fire and other emergency personnel who searched for victims developed respiratory diseases as result of their service.

“It’s a moment etched in our memory,” he said.

Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner said 9/11 served as a “defining moment,” not only in history, but to how fire, emergency medical and law enforcement officers do their duties. He said more than 72 frontline first responders lost their lives on that date 17 years ago.

The 9/11 attacks also unified all first responders — fire, police and emergency medical services. Johnson City Fire Chief James Stables said the lines between those public servants were eliminated with the “selfless sacrifices” seen on that day.

“On that fateful day, many folks sprang into action,” Stables said. “Some were not in uniform.”

Dan Wheeley, director of Washington County/Johnson City Emergency Medical Services, said 9/11 changed the way he and other first responders address tragedies both manmade and natural. He told the audience first responders from Northeast Tennessee were already on their way to the Carolinas to help with whatever comes from Hurricane Florence.

“Whatever the next major event may be — hurricane or terrorism — we have to be prepared every day,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, said events like Tuesday’s remembrance service are important to prevent the details of 9/11 from becoming a “dim memory.” He said some 20 percent of this nation’s population was born after Sept. 11, 2001.

The congressman also said the events of 9/11 have changed American culture, such as “how we get on planes today and go into public buildings.”

Johnson City Mayor David Tomita said Tuesday’s ceremony was “a solemn day made more solemn by the passing of our friend Ralph Van Brocklin.” The city commissioner and former mayor died Saturday.

Tomita said the event was a chance to “say thank you” to all first responders.

“We don’t say that enough,” the mayor said.