A day to remember

The Aitkin Fire Department shows off a 9/11 memorial during the annual Riverboat Days parade. The department will host a special remembrance walk on the 20th anniversary of the event.

Like so much of the world, Aitkin Assistant Fire Chief Seth Jacobs remembers where he was on Sept. 11, 2001.

Close to his one-year anniversary with the Aitkin Fire Department, he had picked up his kids and headed to a friend’s house.

“(The friend) hollered, ‘you’ve got to come see this,’” Jacobs said. “As I walked in, I saw the second plane hit the towers.”

Now, 20 years later, Jacobs has helped organize the fire department’s response to the 20th anniversary of that day. The department will host a 9/11 Remembrance Walk and Ceremony Saturday, Sept. 11 starting at 8:46 a.m. – the time when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.

The walk will begin at the Aitkin Fire Department – 109 First Ave. NW – and end at the Aitkin County Courthouse with a short ceremony.

The fire department is also selling T-shirts, with the proceeds going directly to the Minnesota Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

The walk is 3.43 kilometers, stretching through southeast Aitkin, honoring 343 firefighters killed on 9/11. After the walk, the program will feature a guest speaker – Bruce West, the assistant commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in Minnesota.

West has been in the Minnesota fire service for 41 years. He and Aitkin Fire Chief Brian Pisarek are an example of the chance friendships that occur as firefighters meet at various trainings and events – events that help develop firefighters into family.

That’s something Jacobs can relate to, now 21 years into his career with the fire department. Members of the group made themselves available to head to New York to help with the aftermath of that day.

In Jacobs’ case, that meant taking a leave of absence from his job to make himself available.

“We just weren’t called up,” he said. “They had enough people much closer.”

He can look back now and realize that perhaps he dodged a bullet, with the number of deaths still occurring with those who did respond – now mostly due to cancer.

The first year after 9/11, though, the memorial started. There was a service, a parade and a flyover with old World War II airplanes.

But now, 20 years later, Jacobs said the department wanted to do more.

“It was just discussed that with it being the 20-year anniversary, maybe we should do a little bit more,” Jacobs said. “We tossed ideas around. The walk came to be the idea we liked the best, out of all of us.”

The department’s 1927 fire truck will lead the procession, and message boards will be set up at the memorial offering facts and figures about 9/11.

The sacrifices made by those people and the first firefighters on scene Sept. 11, 2001, still resonate, the people who go in when others are running out.

“That really is what you do,” Jacobs said. “We don’t have World Trade Centers, but ... we have things that can turn just as bad just as fast.”

It’s odd for Jacobs to realize how much time has passed. While Jacobs hopes the city will never face an event on the scale of 9/11, he also said it’s important to recognize the sacrifices made – and for people to remember.

“Every kid in the high school wasn’t alive when 9-11 happened. They’re all under 18,” Jacobs said. “Some of the teachers were maybe new teachers, maybe only 4,5, 6 years old at the time.

“We don’t want the significance of (9/11) to be lost,” he added. “(Our walk) ... we don’t want people crying, but we want people thinking.”

For any questions or more information, call Jacobs at 218-851-6648.

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