Despite the passage of time, today is a difficult day for many.
Rama firefighter Barry Denne, like many, remembers the first responders who put their lives on the line during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
On that fateful September morning, Denne was serving as deputy fire chief of Rama Fire and Rescue.
“I can remember what I was doing and I remember when it was announced across public media, it affected everybody, including all emergency personnel — not just firefighters,” Denne reflected.
Watching the attacks unfold really hit home.
“I was shocked and really concerned. I don’t think people realized that New York isn’t that far from where we live,” he said.
The attacks were close enough to home that local firefighters travelled to Ground Zero to support the search and rescue efforts.
“Some of the guys from our fire department got together and went down to New York in between shifts on their own time to help out. We were concerned for their safety, but it was something they felt they needed to do,” Denne said.
Denne says that when the local firefighters returned home, they had a new understanding of what it meant to be a firefighter.
“They didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation until they went down there and experienced it,” said Denne. “They were surprised to see the brotherhood and how everybody bonded together.
"They learned that a firefighter is a firefighter no matter where your jurisdiction is ... it’s people who have the same passion, beliefs and core values that you do.”
Denne was not one of the local fire officials who went to New York to aid in the aftermath of the tragedy, as it was important to not leave the department back home short-handed. But he and other members of the Rama Fire Service who didn’t make their way to Ground Zero, did their best to help out in other ways.
“We did fundraising and we had the chance to meet some firefighters who come up to visit the area from New York who were involved with that situation and we presented them with a cheque for firefighters and their families,” Denne said.
Denne said they wanted to do more — something to support and remember the emergency responders who gave their best efforts on 9/11.
“We had a decal done up to honour the emergency personnel that is still on the fire trucks today. When we see it, it reminds us of what the emergency personnel did that day: they put their own lives on the line for other people,” Denne said.
“Even though it happened all those years ago, I think it’s important that we still honour the emergency personnel who were down there that day.”
Eighteen years later, the tragedy remains a reminder for Denne and other firefighters about the tough responsibilities that come with their job.
“I’m lucky that I get to come home every day. Those fellows don’t have that privilege any more,” said Denne. “They had families, they had kids, and a lot of stuff that they are going to miss out on. I’m lucky I’ve never been in a situation like that.”
Denne, who will retire next year, started his career as a volunteer firefighter in 1976 with the then Orillia Township Fire Department. He went on to become one of the founding fathers of the Rama Fire Service in 1987.“
Denne said his passion for firefighting started when he was a child, when his grandparents’ farmhouse burned down twice. That ignited in him an eagerness to help people in need.
“I always wanted to be a firefighter. I always had the passion and it just seemed like helping people was a job for me,” said the 64-year-old.
That passion for firefighting is showcased in the basement of his Ramara home, where he has more than 2,000 model fire trucks displayed.
Denne’s collection started when he was around 15 years old and he has collected model fire trucks from popular departments, cities and even movies.
But the most meaningful part of the collection are scaled models of fire trucks that were called to action on 9/11.
Denne says he collects these trucks to honour the people who gave the ultimate sacrifice that day.
“In my own heart and in my collection, I want to keep their memory alive,” Denne said.
In addition to the model fire trucks, Denne’s collection includes a United States flag with the names of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. Each person who is represented on that flag is a family member to Denne.
“When you’re a firefighter you are family with every firefighter. There is a lot of support from your own department and community but also everyone within the fire service,” Denne said.
“Once you’re a firefighter you are always a firefighter, when they talk about a brotherhood, firefighting is the best example.”