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Gainesville pays tribute to 9/11 heroes
Public safety officials honor those who died in attacks nine years ago
Gainesville Fire Department Chief Jon Canada gives remarks during Saturday morning's Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony at Gainesville Fire Department Station 1.

Firefighters, police officers and paramedics lined up outside of Fire Station 1 on Saturday morning and stood in silence.

Officers stopped traffic on Jesse Jewell Parkway at Henry Ward Way and Bradford Street, clearing the road in front of the station. A handful of pedestrians stopped across the street to watch. Only the sounds of birds chirping and faint traffic were audible as everyone paused to remember those who died when the World Trade Center towers collapsed nine years ago.

"More than 2,900 individuals died, with 343 firefighters and 60 law enforcement officials who lost their lives in the attempt to save others," Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada said. "To lay down their lives for fellow man is the ultimate sacrifice. We all remember where we were, what we were doing and who was with us as the tragic event unfolded."

Canada was off duty that day, driving north on Thompson Bridge Road when the news broke over the radio. He immediately drove to Fire Station 3 on Short Road and watched TV with the firefighters who were on duty.

"When the first tower collapsed, we looked at each other and didn’t have words. We knew some of our brothers in the fire service had just died," he said. "When the second tower fell, we had this sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Then I left and went home to be with my wife and children, which is what a lot of folks did."

From 9-11 a.m. Saturday, a member of the Gainesville Police Department Honor Guard and a member of the Gainesville Fire Department Guard stood next to the station’s flag pole, with the flag at half-staff to remember the two hours when the towers fell. A firefighter’s helmet and uniform were placed on one side of the sidewalk, and three rifles were stacked together in a pyramid shape, with a helmet and boots placed with them to signify those who have fallen in battle.

Another guard member walked in front of the two posted, stepping 21 paces to the right and then 21 paces to the left in recognition of the 21-gun salute, which is the highest honor given to any military or foreign dignitary.

"We came to remember those who lost their lives, as well as those who survived," Gainesville Police Chief Brian Kelly said. "It’s something we wish we could change, but we can’t. We can treat people with compassion and respect and continue to support our forces without complaint or hesitation ... and I salute these law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics who have courage, strength and bravery."

Nine years ago, Kelly and his wife were leaving their last obstetrics appointment for their future daughter. The were stopped at Limestone Parkway and U.S. 129 when the news broke.

"Nobody knew then if it was an accident, and we were in awe and shock," he said. "We went home, and I thought I would record it for my daughter. Then we started to mobilize the department and be prepared for what may come next because we then heard about the attacks at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania."

During the moment of silence, an officer rang a bell for three sets of five, a traditional fire signal to notify dispatch when a firefighter has died in the line of duty.

"That day is ingrained in everybody, and it’s something this country should never forget, especially the lives lost," Kelly said. "We run in while others run out. It’s what we do."