Caribou honors 9/11 sacrifices and remembers how the world changed
CARIBOU, Maine — For the 20th year, the Caribou Fire Department and other local first responders and community members gathered outside the fire station Saturday to honor the lives lost and sacrifices made during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Caribou Fire Chief Scott Susi reflected on how the attacks changed the way the nation thought about first responders, and how first responders see themselves.
“When you watched the TV [coverage], you never saw any of them question what they were doing,” Susi said. “They all went back to do what they had to do.”
There were 412 first responders, including 343 members of the New York City Fire Department, who died on 9/11.
Since then, Susi said that even in far-flung and rural fire departments, the job has changed significantly. National Incident Management System training became a requirement for all firefighters, for example.
But beyond major security changes, Susi said the personal impact and family tragedy of the event was equally influential for first responders.
In the early 2000s, Susi was a first assistant at Cary Medical Center and worked in a hospital reserve unit. He was put on standby to travel to New York and set up an emergency hospital on Sept. 11, 2001, but his unit was never called because so many of the people injured in the attacks had already died.
“I lost somebody in the brotherhood. I lost somebody that does essentially what we do,” Susi said. “When you look at New York Fire, it was a family institution: father, brothers, sons. You might have had two, three, four generations in New York Fire. Some families on 9/11 lost four generations of firefighters in one day.”
Representatives from Caribou’s American Legion Post and the VFW said that upon reflection, one of the most powerful outcomes of 9/11 for them was the sense of togetherness that emerged out of the tragedy. Chaplain Bill Thomas compared the reaction to the fallout of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“It made us open our eyes to realize: don’t take anything for granted,” Caribou VFW Commander Roger Felix said. “Freedom is never free. It has to be fought for. It has to be preserved.”
At Saturday’s ceremony, Caribou’s ladder truck flew an American flag and a 9/11 commemorative flag over Main Street, and the department parked its other trucks in the front lot of the fire station. The Fort Fairfield Fire Department brought a truck as well. Representatives from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden’s offices spoke about the impact of the attacks.
Meanwhile, 13-year-old Gage Theriault and 17-year-old Nathan Morneault spent most of the morning walking up and down High Street with an American flag. Neither were alive when the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon 20 years ago, but they said they knew the event shaped the world they live in.
“We just want to walk and honor everybody that passed away and died and all the people that fought to try and save a lot of people,” Theriault said.