Members of the Burbank Police Department and Burbank Fire Department gathered Saturday morning for a ceremony in front of Police and Fire Headquarters to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the 20-year anniversary of the tragedies.
Department personnel in attendance included BPD Police Chief Mike Albanese, BFD Chief Eric Garcia, and the BPD Honor Guard assisting with the ceremony. All BFD on-duty crews participated in the event from their stations, as did other on-duty crews throughout the 13 cities of the Verdugo Fire Communications Center. Former firefighter and Burbank Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes and Burbank City Councilmembers Konstantine Anthony and Nick Schultz also attended the event.
The ceremony began with a raising and lowering of the American flag, followed by the Verdugo dispatch system broadcasting a message and bell ceremony to all 44 fire stations in their system as an homage to the anniversary of the attacks. The PD Honor Guard then assisted Chief Albanese and Chief Garcia in placing a wreath next to the Guardian statue in front of the headquarters before issuing a moment of silence and making a closing statement to conclude the ceremony.
Albanese expressed the enduring emotional sentiments felt by first responders across the nation on every anniversary of the tragic terrorist attacks. The coordinated plane hijackings that occurred at the New York World Trade Center, the United States Department of Defense Pentagon building, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people, including 412 emergency responders, which left a lasting impact on others in the field.
“This is an emotional time for many first responders who still have vivid images and memories of the attacks on September 11,” Albanese said. “ On that day, after the first attack, all first responders nationwide were mobilized – even those of us who were 3,000 miles from the epicenter of the attacks, and we remained mobilized for months. For first responders, the pain was deep and piercing because their innate response to render aid and stop the violence was thwarted by the horrifying and reprehensible acts of violence. The heartache for the victims and their families is impossible to imagine and understand – praying for their souls and our country on this day is cathartic for many of us.”
BFD Battalion Chief Mark Hatch was amongst fellow firefighters while watching the attacks unfold on television and recalled his shock at the series of events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I remember just being stunned and in awe as I stood with my fellow firefighters in the kitchen at Station 11 watching it all unfold on TV live,” Hatch said of his memories of 9/11. “The Towers, the Pentagon, and the downed airplane in Pennsylvania was incomprehensible.”
Burbank Firefighters Local 778 President Eric Rowley was just beginning his firefighting training at the time of 9/11. His father, former BFD Captain Brian Rowley, was on duty that day, which created worry as “you never knew what was going to happen” for emergency responders nationally as the attacks occurred, Rowley stated.
On September 11, 2001, Rowley had recently graduated high school and was going through his Fire Academy training. Witnessing the total selflessness of New York City Fire Department officers responding to the incidents, he said, only made him more certain of his chosen career path.
“Every year that 9/11 rolls around, it’s all in the back of our minds, of the ultimate sacrifice, of what our job entails and how selfless all those individuals of FDNY were that ran into the towers and didn’t even have a hesitation of what they were doing,” Rowley said. “And obviously they had no clue what their fate was going to be. I’m sure many of them knew it was not good going in, and…they would probably not make it out. So I think…for me, it’s always a reminder of what this job is about.”
BFD Captain Erik Johnson was then a firefighter and, like Hatch, watched the tragedies on television while in the kitchen of Station 11 in Burbank on September 11.
“It was pretty crazy, pretty insane what had happened and how many people had lost their lives and how many firefighters, police officers, first responders, and citizens…just really took a big toll,” Johnson said.
In the weeks following the attacks, now-retired BFD Engineer Terry Mencuri initiated fundraising efforts to give back to the FDNY. Johnson designed a logo for merchandise, and visitors went to Burbank fire stations to purchase hats, stickers, and t-shirts and thank the department for its service.
These sales raised around $10,000 for the FDNY over the course of a month and a half. Johnson and fellow BFD members Dwayne Servillo, Ray Hickman, Jr., and Hans Jenner delivered this in person at Ladder 11 in New York in early November of 2001. The group spent six days in New York, during which they attended five funerals of fallen firefighters and met with members of the East coast fire department. While they initially intended to drop off the donation at the station with a brief greeting, members of the FDNY generously welcomed in the visiting BFD personnel.
“[FDNY members] were talking, hanging out with us, sharing some amazing stories and telling us about the members that they lost at that station,” Johnson said of his visit to New York after 9/11. “They were just so welcoming and so helpful.”
Over the ensuing five days, the BFD visitors became better acquainted with FDNY firefighters and their experiences dealing with the horrific aftermath of the calamitous events of 9/11. Burbank firefighters witnessed this first-hand when, at the ground zero World Trade Center attack site, they were asked to serve as Honor Guards for three deceased bodies that were recovered in the rubble and draped with an American flag.
Johnson said he saw visits from firefighters who had travelled to New York from Scotland, Canada, and other international and national territories to offer their support in whatever way they could. He kept in touch with FDNY Lieutenant Pete Sapienza, whom he met on the trip, for several years after they met, and returned to New York for the lighting of the eternal flame in Battery Park on the one-year anniversary of the tragedies. As 20 years have passed since his first visit, Johnson remembered his feelings of solidarity with fellow firefighters as they joined together after an unimaginable disaster hit the nerve of a nation.
“I had been on the job for two years, so I was a pretty new firefighter, and it was pretty powerful to realize, I’m part of a family and this doesn’t just stop at the Burbank border,” Johnson said. “This is the fire service in general, and it crosses state lines, county lines, and it’s pretty much [around] the world. And that was bigger than I ever imagined. It… was a great thing to experience and learn early….It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I hope I never have to have again, but I really learned a lot, and I’m thankful for it.”
After the September 11 attacks, the BFD placed an attached American flag on the back of all of their apparatus as a tribute to honor the victims of the attacks and show pride in serving the United States. In addition, at Burbank Fire Station 11, there is a framed poster that shows a picture of each of the 343 firefighters who passed away on September 11, 2001.
To view a list of the names of nearly 3,000 victims who died on 9/11, visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website here.