Small bell chimes resonated throughout the American Legion Post 795 parking lot Wednesday during the 9/11 Patriot Day ceremony as a firefighter’s homage to those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
It’s called striking the four fives, a tradition long held by fire stations across the United States that originated in New York City. An alarm bell or ceremonial bell is struck five times in a series of four, which indicates that a firefighter has died.
Groups of firefighters, emergency services personnel, police officers, American war veterans and supporters gathered for the ceremony. Speakers discussed their beliefs in the importance of remembering the day, the men and women who put public service above all else and touted a sense of steadfast American spirit.
Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District Chief Ben Sharit said the day is still vivid in his mind when he enters his own fire department building.
“It’s a day we’ll never forget,” Sharit said. “It struck us at our very core. What we take from it is we have the ability to be resilient and come back, to continue to protect the American public.”
Call to duty and dedication, Sharit said, is the most apparent trait the public servants exhibited in their selflessness on 9/11.
“That’s a duty we’ve all sworn to uphold and we continue to uphold,” Sharit said. “Those firefighters and emergency personnel that day understood that and did what they needed to do. They saved a lot of lives that day.”
Sharit said there is a distinct alert attached to each firefighter’s oxygen pack that goes off when he or she stops moving in a building.
“I remember hearing that alarm actively as the building came down; you know how many people were still in there, and that’s what stays with me,” Sharit said.
Chaplain of American Legion 795 Curt Emrie helped emcee the event and conducted the striking of the four fives.
“This is only the second attack in our country,” Emrie said, adding he thinks about the American people, military personnel and their families most on 9/11. “Other countries they fight all the time on their own soil. We don’t because of our military, first responders, people who think of other people way before themselves, especially our military and their families.”
As a chaplain, Emrie assumes the responsibility of comforting and mentoring people as well as presiding over funerals for military personnel. The methods in which he handles others’ grief, he said, is on a case-by-case basis.
“Each one is different,” Emrie said. “Basically you comfort them and let them know they’re not alone. There’s a lot of support, a lot of caring people out there who help them along the way. You don’t have to be a first responder to help.”
South Lake Tahoe firefighter and paramedic Michael Mileksi, who has been with the department for six years, also attended the ceremony.
“It’s a great opportunity to be in the community and help people and work with a bunch of guys you like,” Mileski said. “It’s a family-oriented career.”
Mileski said he takes the day to contemplate the events of 9/11 and the ever-present chance he may be called to a disaster.
“It’s just a day to remember that anything can happen on any date and anywhere, so it’s a day to reflect on things like that,” Mileksi said. “It’s nice to have a day to come out and do this.”