PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Eighteen American flags surrounded the monument in Platteville City Park on Wednesday night, a testament to the resilience of the community’s fire department on the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The flags’ colors were vibrant against the gray sky, which seemed to echo the somberness of the day.
The monument’s bell tolled “3-3-5,” the sound hanging in the humid air. Its ringing is a historic and symbolic gesture that hearkens back to firefighters making it home safely from a call, Platteville Fire Chief Ryan Simmons said.
“Back in the day, they would ring the bell to show the firefighters returning back to their station and back to their quarters after a call,” he said. “(On Sept. 11, 2001,) some left for the call but never came back.”
Dozens of local emergency responders and community members gathered to honor and remember the lives lost in the terrorist attacks. Wednesday marked the community’s inaugural remembrance event.
Attendees listened to a brief program presented by Simmons that recalled the events of the tragic day and included a reading of both the firefighters’ and emergency medical responders’ prayers.
Of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, 343 were firefighters, 60 were police officers and eight were first responders.
Simmons said the date is especially meaningful to those in the emergency service roles.
“I think it’s important to remember it because it’s an important part of our history,” he said. “It was such a loss for fire and police and first responders. There was such a large loss at once.”
As Simmons was speaking to first responders’ willingness to jump into action, an emergency call came in, causing some of the emergency responders attending to leave the event early.
Their dedication was not lost on those present, including 11-year-old Gavin Koeller, of Platteville.
Gavin, who attended the event with his father, Calvin Koeller, said he was motivated to attend after learning about 9/11 in school.
“I really love history so I wanted to hear what they had to say about it,” he said. “I really like how (Simmons) talked about what happened and how many people died.”
Gavin said he is considering becoming a police officer in the future and spoke of his admiration for both local and national law enforcement and first responders.
“It definitely inspired me to hear about how people worked (following the attacks),” he said.
Coree Lee, of the Platteville Police Department, said 9/11 was what inspired her to pursue law enforcement professionally.
“I think it shaped who is currently in law enforcement,” she said. “Like myself, I was not in law enforcement then, but it kind of led me into this career. So I think it shaped some police officers, firefighters, EMTs, nurses.”
Platteville firefighter and University of Wisconsin-Platteville police officer Kurt Tuescher said he had only been policing for a few years when the attacks occurred. The mentality about responding to calls changed following 9/11.
“In all emergency services, I think it marked a change in how we do our jobs,” he said. “It suddenly changed your perspective about what dangers you might be going to on any certain call. ... Suddenly every event could have a greater consequence or greater reason behind it.”
Simmons said 9/11 helped prioritize training and has made the bond between emergency service workers even stronger.
“It put things in perspective, but it also helps you become better at what you do,” he said. “It makes you understand how important training is and ... the camaraderie and brotherhood that’s there. By acknowledging the brotherhood, it helps you understand the meaning and keeps you from getting complacent.”