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17 years later, The Woodlands remembers 9/11 attacks

September 11, 2018

The ringing bell cut through the silent crowd — five sets of four ringing tolls for those who perished on Sept. 11, 2001.

As part of The Woodlands’ annual 9/11 memorial ceremony held Tuesday at the township’s Central Fire Station, The Woodlands Fire Department’s color guard performed the solemn ritual to honor survivors, victims and remember the first responders who died in the days following the tragic events that changed America.

More than 40 attendees joined public officials such The Woodlands Fire Chief Alan Benson, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, members of the Township’s Board of Directors and dozens of firefighters at the early morning ceremony on a dreary, rain-soaked day.

“We’re here today to remember the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives on Sept. 11,” said Gordy Bunch, the chairman of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors.

The Township’s commemoration was one of thousands around the country remembering the attacks that killed 2,996 people — including more than 400 first responders — in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Firefighters, it’s been said, live their lives by the sound of a ringing bell. The bell announces their departures, welcomes firefighters back to their post after fighting a fire and signals the beginning and end of a shift. The four tolls announced the death and evoked the remembrance of those who lost their lives trying to save others on that crisp, blue September day in New York City.

“Life in America, as well as the first responder community, has changed since the terrible events (17) years ago,” Benson said. “The struggle continues, the threat of foreign attacks is still present, but are so far stymied by the men and women who work tirelessly.”

Seventeen years ago, Kerri Welch left her midtown Manhattan apartment headed for jury duty. Three subway stops later, she stepped out of the station and into her worst nightmare.

Now a resident of The Woodlands, Welch said the effects of the day have carried on in the thousands of survivors, search and rescue volunteers and law enforcement officials who were afflicted both mentally and physically by the toxic smoke, ash, debris and poor air quality that emanated from the burning and collapsing buildings.

“I couldn’t handle it,” Welch said. “I was always looking over my shoulder, wondering when the next thing would happen.”

At the event, Benson told those gathered that after 9/11, the department collaborated with the Office of Emergency Management, the Fire Marshal’s office and law enforcement and fire departments around the county, making Montgomery County the first county in Texas to adopt an emergency response plan specifically geared toward hostile shooter and intruder situations.

The Township-specific plan is designed to provide effective response for anywhere from concert venues to schools. Should an event like 9/11 ever materialize in The Woodlands, Benson said, they would be ready.

Brady, who at the time of the 9/11 attacks was a four-year veteran of the House of Representatives, described how he and others were evacuated from the Capitol on Sept. 11.

Reflecting on the legacy 9/11 has had on law enforcement and the impactful images that came from the day, Brady praised younger firefighters, police officers and other law enforcement officials for answering the call of duty, and he called on residents to remember the acts of heroism that came in the wake of the attack.

“Though it’s been 17 years, we still remember,” Brady said. “We all still remember.”

As the clock continues to tick away from 9/11, other speakers called on residents of The Woodlands to remember first responders sacrifices made as they went on shift that cool September day, not knowing if they would come home.

“This anniversary, let’s remember the strength of a nation that refused to be brought to its knees and remained determined and undivided,” Brady said.

mrincon@chron.com

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