Waxahachie honors first responders on 9/11 anniversary

Chris Roark
Waxahachie Daily Light

As Fire Chief Ricky Boyd stood in front of the crowd outside the Waxahachie Civic Center on Saturday morning, he reflected on the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the heroism that followed.

The Waxahachie fire and police departments hosted a remembrance ceremony Saturday on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Waxahachie fire and police departments hosted a remembrance ceremony on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in which two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City, one struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and another crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Boyd told the story of his friend Sean Halper, who Boyd worked with when he began his career at the Lancaster Fire Department. Halper later moved to the New York City Fire Department, where he became a driver for Engine Company 279.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Engine 279 and Ladder Truck 131, both from Brooklyn, were among many that arrived at the World Trade Center after United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower. Firefighters were tasked with putting out the fire on the impacted floors and rescuing the people who were trapped. Some of them fell to their death.

Waxahachie Fire Chief Ricky Boyd addresses the crowd during Saturday's 9/11 remembrance ceremony.

Halper began hooking up the hose line and removing the equipment while the other five members of his unit entered the South Tower.

“As he was preparing his work, he could hear thuds of bodies falling all around him,” Boyd said. “When the South Tower collapsed he ran for his life, and he was overcome by smoke and debris. When the debris cleared, he found his buddies from Truck 131. But all five of his friends from 279 died.”

Boyd said Halper took a couple of weeks off work after that day. When he returned, he saw his damaged engine, and he was greeted by members of Ladder Truck 131. But his friends of Engine 279 were not there.

“I can’t imagine what it took to come back into that fire station that day,” Boyd said. “But I do know it took a lot of guts, determination and commitment to serve others and to carry on. That’s what we as first responders are asked to do in the call of duty. We are called to carry on in the face of tragedy. And all the while remembering to pay respects to those who paid the ultimate price.”

During Saturday’s remembrance, Assistant Police Chief Joe Wiser read a timeline of the events on 9/11 and gave statistics on fatalities from the attack.

The death toll on that day was 2,977. Among those who died were 343 firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers and 55 military personnel. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 1,400 rescuers who responded to the scene have died, and 1,140 who worked, lived or studied in lower Manhattan at the time of the attacks have been diagnosed with cancer as a result of their exposure to toxins at the scene.

A local teen observes The Price of Freedom monument outside the Waxahachie Civic Center.

Boyd praised the work of all first responders and encouraged everyone to remember their selfless acts.

“Today I call on all of us to recommit ourselves every day, as I know you do, to not only these individuals who work in these organizations,” Boyd said, “but each and every one of us as Americans to find a way to serve others, to put others in front of yourself and by doing so you’re serving the Lord. You’re doing what he has called you to do each and every day. And by putting others first we’re stronger as the United States, we’re stronger as citizens and we’re stronger as families.”

Police Chief Wade Goolsby also reflected on the heroic actions that day.

“When the attack occurred there was total chaos,” Goolsby said. “Thousands of people were trying to escape from the flaming towers. People were fleeing in all directions on the ground. There was one group that was running to the scene, and that was the first responders. Firefighters were running into the building to fight the fires and to rescue people. Police officers were responding to help save people from the scene. Without regard to their own safety these heroes ran into the fires, ran into the debris and ran into the darkness so they could save anyone they could.”

Goolsby said it’s important to remember local first responders put their lives on the line as well.

“The reality is you go into those unknown situations every week. Sometimes every day,” Goolsby said.

Bruce Zimmerman, chaplain for the Waxahachie Fire Department, said memorial ceremonies like the one Saturday are important not only to help people remember important events in the country’s past but to teach people about them.

He said one thing 9/11 teaches people is that there is evil in the world. But he said it also teaches people about unity and helping each other overcome tragedies.

“People gave and in incredible ways,” Zimmerman said. “Giving of service, giving of blood, giving of financial resources to help those who were hurting. We need one another. And that day reminds us that we need each other.”