FREEPORT, Maine — The two solid and rusted posts rise about eight feet above the ground and extend a reported six feet beneath. They are the centerpieces of the 9/11 memorial beside the Freeport public safety building, and for good reason.
The steel was part of the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York City, destroyed by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
This Saturday, the 20th anniversary of those attacks, the memorial will be filled with local firefighters and others to remember all those who died that day.
Those attacks immediately focused new attention on first responders around the country, as fears of more attacks propelled local firefighters, police, and EMS crews to confront the possibility of dealing with Weapons of Mass Destruction.
“Because we didn’t know what would happen (next),” said Darrell Fournier, who was Freeport’s fire chief in 2001.
“There were rumors people would steal rescue vehicles and put bombs in them,” he said, noting that for days the department would send fire trucks or other vehicles to keep guard over ambulances on each call, and crews were told to lock ambulances at every stop.
Current Freeport chief Charlie Jordan, who was on the Rockland Fire Department in 2001, said they faced the same concerns and also had to respond to fears of chemical weapons.
“We did a number of anthrax calls, white powder calls. White powder at the post office, white powder at the town office.”
Fire departments have also received large amounts of federal money since 2001, much of which has now run out, for the purchase of equipment, training, and other needs. However, the fire chiefs say in some cases the ongoing training requirements for federal programs proved very difficult to manage, considering regular staffing requirements.
Both also say the biggest challenge now faced by Maine departments is finding enough staff. Many departments are short of people and unable to find new volunteers or even paid firefighters to properly staff the department.
Retired Chief Fournier hopes the weekend memorial service, and renewed attention resulting from marking the 20th anniversary of 9/11, will be a reminder to the public of the constant need to find people who will help answer the call when needed.
“When they see us out doing our service (I hope) they will know we are a great country, and a lot of people will want to serve the community, and people will step up to the plate and help us out,” Fournier said.
The Freeport Fire Department and other groups will hold a large memorial ceremony Saturday morning, starting at 8:30, at the 9/11 memorial next to the town public safety building.