Sunday, September 12, 2010
Remembering Fallen; Building the Future
By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer
"It's still fresh. We can't ever forget this day. If you start losing things, if you start not remembering and rallying around it, things tend to repeat themselves," said retired Albuquerque Fire Department Lt. Chuck Cogburn.
It so happened Sept. 11 nine years ago was Firefighters Day at the State Fair, and Cogburn, a former member of the mounted search and rescue team, was headed there.
"We were loading up our horses, and we saw the initial news outbreak, and then we watched the second plane hit," Cogburn said, recalling the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that tumbled the World Trade Center towers in New York City, struck the Pentagon and downed an airliner in Pennsylvania.
"We went down to the fair and just kept going back and forth between radio and TV, and that day, too, I got put on alert with the National Guard."
On Saturday, the anniversary of the attacks, Cogburn and about 20 off-duty city firefighters were "dispatched" to the Duke City's tallest building: the 22-story Bank of Albuquerque building Downtown. In full gear, they made their way up and down the stairs five times — mirroring the 110-story height at which the Towers once stood — to mark the day that nearly 3,000 people were killed, including more than 300 firefighters.
The event was one of several ways city residents commemorated 9/11 on Saturday.
"Being a firefighter, it's a tight-knit community," said Cogburn, who organized the stair climb when it first took place in 2003. It has since spread to other cities around the world. Up and down the narrow stair confines, the firefighters passed signs taped by building tenants to the walls, messages like "Thank You."
"We not only do it in remembrance of the fallen firefighters, but in support of the families whose family members did die — fathers, brothers, sons," said AFD fire inspector Raymond C. Sanchez, a climber. "We all know that at any time it could be any one of us."
"Thanks for coming out here, and make sure you get to know the person you're working next to, because it's about building community, as well," said Shrayas Jatkar of the New Mexico Sierra Club.
For students, staff, volunteers and sponsors, Saturday was a day of service at Nuestros Valores Charter School in the South Valley.
Based on a student-created design, and with money from the Sierra Club to buy plants and other things and donations from businesses such as JPR Decorative Gravel, the crew cleared a once-weedy area and built a garden and sitting area at the Isleta SW school, said Michelle Tudor, science teacher and event coordinator.
As student and volunteer Aaron Silva explained, it was a fix. A nice one.
The event was one of many around the country that the Sierra Club took part in as part of the National Day of Service and Remembrance.
"This is a way to actually give back to all of them for a job that they so do on a daily basis," said Belinda Barreras-Medrano, an insurance agent, about attending the Police Department's second annual Public Safety Appreciation Day.
At the Albuquerque Police Department's academy along Second Street, the day was set aside for the community to visit with cops and firefighters.
"It's a day to recognize our officers that put their lives on the line every single day," said Joey Sigala, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.
It was a family-friendly environment: an inflatable jumper for kids, a rock-climbing wall, food on the grill, police and fire equipment, and with a 9/11 presence, including an ice sculpture with an eagle etched over "9-11" and "Never Forget."
Sigala was in the academy nine years ago, on one of their morning runs on the ditch bank, when his group was turned around and taken back. The group was brought into a classroom where a couple of TVs were rolled in and turned on as the second plane hit the second tower, Sigala said.
"So for me, it's a very significant day," he said. "It's probably a good reason why I'm so proud of what I do and the fact that I get to run this union and support the men and women who keep the city safe."
Barreras-Medrano and her husband, Anthony, woke up to the "catastrophic event."
"My husband, the first words out of his mouth were, 'Our world has now changed.' "