| Sarah Heinonen
AGAWAM – Members of the Agawam Fire Department stood at attention along with Mayor Bill Sapelli and members of the clergy to somberly watch the United States flag be raised and then lowered to half staff in remembrance of the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives 19 years ago in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In years passed, the ceremony was attended by members of the community wishing to pay their respects, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ceremony was closed to the public and instead carried on public access cable channel 15 and online at AgawamMedia.tv.
Fire Chief Alan Sirois, said that “firefighters have answered the call” since Benjamin Franklin formed the first Fire Department, but the duties of those first responders have changed over the centuries. Now, he said, “the nature of the profession” is to “prepare for the next threat to the nation.”
Sirois recalled the unity that swept the country after the attacks. “It seems our nation is far more divided since the days after September 11, 2001,” he said, referencing the political and social turmoil that has erupted around the presidential election and racial inequality. “We do not need to be a nation angrily divided. That unity starts with all of us as individuals.”
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill of Saint David’s Episcopal Church recited a prayer and the bible verse John 13:34, which quotes Jesus as saying “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Hill said that passage meant being ready to give one’s life for others.
“The people we remember today were tested in just that way,” Hill said.
Sapelli stood behind the podium and recounted the timeline of the attacks, first at the World Trade Center in New York, then in Washington at the Pentagon and finally the downed plane in a field in Pennsylvania. While he said there were heroes at each of those sites, he noted that the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 had been made aware of the attacks in the other locations through cell phone messages from loved ones and knew what was happening.
“They took it upon themselves to overtake the terrorists,” Sapelli said, and “unselfishly risked and took their own lives” to save others. The mayor said it was the duty of those who remember the attacks to tell the stories to youth who were not yet alive.
He quoted an unknown author, saying, “In one single moment, life may never be the same.”
Amid addresses that spoke of firefighters answering the call, Agawam’s Engine No. 2 left the ceremony to respond to a call. The engine’s departing sirens served as a backdrop to Sirois’s announcement of the bells sounded to render final honors to fallen firefighters, called “striking the four fives.” Fire Lt. James Deming read the Fireman’s Prayer between the ringing of the bells.
Father Bill Hamilton, the Agawam Fire Department chaplain, gave the closing prayer and again praised the firefighters who respond to calls for help without knowing if they will return home.
Sapelli told Reminder Publishing that in responding to calls for aid during the pandemic, puts first responders’ lives in jeopardy in yet another way. While the remembrance of sacrifice hasn’t changed in the nearly 20 years since the attacks, he said, “This year is a little different. I would hope that this year, because of COVID, people appreciate first responders, even more than usual.
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