Locals remember 9/11, honor first responders at events in Aspen, Snowmass

At 6:46 a.m., seven Roaring Fork Fire Rescue responders sat down at a long table on the first floor of Station 45 in Snowmass, sipped coffee and watched a series of images scroll across a TV screen.

The images showed responders helping people covered in dusty debris and blood. People running away. Responders running in to put out the flames engulfing the two World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, 1,956 miles away and 18 years later, these seven local first responders were listening to the recorded Manhattan radio traffic from the 9/11 attacks in New York City and getting glimpses of what responders saw that morning.

“It honors the firefighters and everyone who participated in trying to save people,” said firefighter and paramedic Christine Benton of listening to the 9/11 dispatch. “It honors them when we remember them.”

And on Wednesday, first responders in Aspen and Snowmass honored and remembered those rescuers who gave their lives during and as a result of the 9/11 terrorism attacks in more ways than one.

Just before noon in front of the Aspen Fire Department on East Hyman Avenue, several pairs of rubber firefighter boots were lined up and filled with 343 red roses as part of the local fire district’s 18th Annual Day of Remembrance ceremony.

Each rose was tagged with a photo and name of one of the 343 firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

“They say we die twice, once when the breath leaves our body and once when the last person we know says our name,” said Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine at the remembrance ceremony, reciting a renowned quote.

“I invite everyone, please, take one or more of these roses, take a look at the photo and read the name out loud every chance you get so these firefighters and first responders that died will never die again.”

During Balentine’s speech, he aimed to urge those present to remember the men and women who died at Ground Zero in 2001, but also the hundreds of people who have died of 9/11-caused illnesses in the 18 years since.

Balentine also took the opportunity at the podium to talk about mental health for first responders, noting that they are 10% more likely to die by suicide than the general population.

But overall, Balentine said he feels outside of never forgetting what happened on 9/11, the best tribute people alive today can pay to those who died is to show kindness.

“My wish would be that people give back some of the feelings and the emotions that happened after 9/11 in a good way,” Balentine said. “There’s something called post-traumatic stress but there’s also something called post-traumatic growth. We can learn how to take those bad feelings and turn them into good feelings. … I think that would be an honor to the people who died in 9/11.”

Several hours after the Aspen ceremony and as the sun started to set in Snowmass, local area first responders gathered in the parking lot adjacent to the Snowmass Rodeo lot for a final tribute: the annual Axes and Arms 9/11 Climb.

The group of roughly 50 firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement and families met Wednesday evening to walk over 3 miles from the Town Park bus stop up to the Top of the Village.

First responders wore their uniforms and bunker gear and many locals brought their dogs and children as U.S. Marine veteran Christopher Caldwell led the charge behind a Roaring Fork Fire Rescue engine with an American flag gripped tightly in his hands.

“I’d be here walking even if no one else was,” Caldwell said. “We can never forget.”

Like Caldwell, local first responders also feel 9/11 can never be forgotten, which is why they organize events like the annual Aspen ceremony and Snowmass climb to ensure it never will be.

“This morning at each Roaring Fork fire station, the crews listened to the radio traffic from FDNY as they entered the World Trade Center never to come out again,” said Jake Andersen, battalion chief for Roaring Fork Fire Rescue. “We’ve committed to remember that the voices may be gone forever but the deeds of these brave men and women will live forever. That’s why we’re here.”