DeKALB – DeKalb firefighter and Long Island, New York, native Patrick Eriksen comes from a family of first responders, and said local 9/11 tributes around the country help him memorialize his cousin, John Florio, who lost his life in the line of duty in 2001.
During Wednesday’s 9/11 tribute ceremony at DeKalb Fire Station No. 1, Eriksen said a lot has changed in 18 years for first responders.
“But our goals remain the same as they were in the past: save lives and protect property, sometimes at a terrible cost,” he said. “This is what we do. This is our chosen profession. This is the tradition of a firefighter.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Eriksen (who moved from New York to Illinois at a young age) said his cousin, Florio, 29, was called to the north tower of the World Trade Center in NYC Engine 214 from Brooklyn. Florio was inside the building when it collapsed and was one of the 2,977 people killed in a series of terror attacks on that day.
Eriksen’s uncle, Capt. Keith Eriksen, also a New York City firefighter and his unit’s chaplain, still is battling health issues after working for two weeks at ground zero.
DeKalb firefighters joined a number of 9/11 tributes around DeKalb County on Wednesday. The Sycamore Fire Department also held its annual 9/11 Remembrance Service in front of Sycamore Fire Station No. 1.
During the observance in DeKalb, at least two emergency calls came in, and firefighters left their posts to address the calls, which Fire Chief Jeff McMaster said was apropos of the reason they gathered Wednesday.
“They are out doing what they have been called to do,” McMaster said.
During the attacks and immediate aftermath, 343 firefighters and 60 police officers were killed. McMaster said more than 10,000 first responders and workers who worked cleanup efforts and triage also have developed cancer and health issues since that day.
“To give you an extent of the damage it did to the [New York Fire Department], 75 firehouses lost at least one member that day,” Deputy Fire Chief Bart Gilmore said.
Michael Embrey, DeKalb businessman and veteran, played taps during the ceremony, and a pair of bagpipers from the Highland Guard Bagpipe band played “Amazing Grace” after McMaster led the group in a moment of silence.
Members of the DeKalb Fire color guard, led by Eriksen, rang a bell three times, to symbolize the end of watch for those first responders. Eriksen said the bell is “steeped in tradition.”
“As firefighters began their tour of duty, it was a bell to signify the beginning of that watch,” Eriksen said, noting that the bell also tolls for those who die in the line of duty.
McMaster reflected on the almost two decades it’s been since the hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
“Why keep memorializing it?” McMaster said. “That’s a fair question. We as firefighters remember to acknowledge the supreme sacrifice that 343 firefighters made, a fate that we may face in our profession.”