The scanners will be silent Friday, Sept. 11, at 8 a.m., as part of Sedona Fire District’s Sept. 11 commemorative ceremony.
SFD crews, Sedona Police Department and residents will gather at the flagpoles at SFD Station No. 1 in West Sedona and Station No. 3 in the Village of Oak Creek.
SFD Battalion Chief Dan Wills, the only district employee to work the incident, said the scene seemed like a “massive commercial fire,” when he arrived just a few days after the attacks.
Wills was on a National Incident Management Team, working a wildfire at Glacier National Park, when the team was sent to Ground Zero.
The regional team, one of 16 nationwide, spent a long 34 days supporting the urban search and rescue teams with coordination and organization. After a while, its mission included instant planning for the New York City Fire Department.
All the agencies responding couldn’t communicate through the same radio channels, Wills said, which presented problems, but within units, the communication went smoothly.
“This whole concept of interoperability [communication] picked up a lot more attention and became a much larger focus after Sept. 11,” he said.
According to Wills, even if the New York City Police Department, FDNY and Port Authority of New York & New Jersey had the technology to communicate, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, since the agencies don’t have the habit of intercommunication.
“It’s more a cultural issue [among the agencies] than technological,” he said.
To commemorate, SFD will notify the 12 other agencies it dispatches for that there will be a moment of silence at 7:58 a.m., two minutes prior to the daily tone test. Agencies interested in participating can tune in to the designated channel.
At 7:59 a.m., the time the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, station bells will ring 5-5-5.
According to SFD Public Information Officer Gary Johnson, before telephones and radios, fire departments used the telegraph to communicate.
When a firefighter died in the line of duty, the fire alarm office would tap out five measured dashes, then a pause, then five dashes, another pause, then five more dashes, Johnson explained.
“This became universally known as the Tolling of the Bell and was broadcast over all telegraph fire alarm circuits,” he said. “This signal was a sign of honor and respect for all firefighters who had made the ultimate sacrifice and has become a time-honored tradition.”
At 8 a.m., there will be one minute of silence followed by a chief fire officer or chaplain reciting the Firefighter’s Prayer.
The assignment was beyond anyone’s experience, but the interaction between the varied players was fascinating, Wills said.
“It smelled like a commercial fire. It was a fire,” he described. “That building stayed on fire for two months.”
Looking back, Wills decided it was probably worse for the bystanders than for the crews working at Ground Zero.
“It was incredibly frustrating because everyone wanted to do something,” he said. “We got the better end of the deal because we got to go to work.”
Everyone is welcome to attend at either station to reflect on the victims of the tragedies at all three attack sites: the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and the crash site in Shanksville, Pa.
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