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9/11 Attacks Hit Home for Door County Emergency Responders

When terrorists brought down the towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 341 firefighters and paramedics, 23 police officers, and 37 Port Authority officers, the emotional impact reverberated far beyond the New York City limits.

Sturgeon Bay firefighter Tim Dietman said that even here in Door County the attacks hit close to home for Door County emergency personnel.

“It didn’t matter where you worked or what branch – you’re one big family,” Dietman said.

Jacksonport Fire Chief Tom Ash said the disaster showed the public a side of the job most never thought about.

“[9/11] opened a lot of eyes to how we approach things,” he said. “People didn’t realize the danger firefighters face when they go on a call.”

As the 10th anniversary of the attacks approaches, Door County Emergency Responders have organized a memorial service for Sept. 11 with 10K and 5K runs and a 2.5K family walk. The runs and walk will start at 9 am in front of the Sturgeon Bay City Hall.

A memorial service will follow at 10:30 am. Lt. Cmdr. John Stone of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mobile Bay will speak to those gathered at city hall. All proceeds from the event will go to the Families of September 11 Fund, which offers support to families and children who lost loved ones in the attacks.

The event is a public reminder of the impact those events had, even in a small town far from the devastation in Lower Manhattan.

“People still think about it all the time because it’s something that could happen anywhere,” Dietman said. “It’s stuck in everybody’s minds.”

For Linda Schultz, the memory remains vivid. She was working as Sevastopol School’s director of building and grounds at the time, but also served as a Red Cross volunteer. She said she felt obligated to go to Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attacks, and then-Superintendent Joe McMahon allowed her to take three weeks off to aid in the recovery effort.

She flew into New York City with the Lakeland Chapter of the Red Cross the night of Sept. 12 and was told to put her Red Cross badge away. Family and friends of relief workers feared that terrorists would strike again in the aftermath of the attacks, but Schultz never wavered.

“I never felt afraid…I thought I could do some good,” she said.

When the plane flew over the expanse where the twin towers formerly stood, the sight was unbelievable, Schultz said.

“It was like nothing you could envision by watching TV,” she said.

Once on the ground, the smell of burning rubber filled Shultz’s nostrils. Dust and soot blurred her vision for the entirety of her three-week stay. Disbelief flooded Schultz and the other volunteers, she said, but they were soon at work aiding rescue workers.

“I thought just being there and talking to people would help,” Schultz said. “At that point, we knew there wasn’t going to be any recovery, it was just a matter of helping the people at Ground Zero.”

Nearly 10 years after the attacks, Dietman said his colleagues still talk about 9/11, and the concern they’ve had since the attacks hasn’t faded.

Ash remembers the admiration and respect the public had for emergency workers in the weeks that followed Sept. 11. While that respect has diminished as time passed, honoring those who were lost remains essential.

“We feel that it’s important to honor those people who lost their lives doing their jobs,” Ash said.

Schultz and her husband Randy put up a memorial of their own outside their home on State Highway 57 between Valmy and Institute.

“I hope [people] never forget what went on, and I hope they don’t forget all the rescue workers and volunteers who lost their lives that day and all the families who lost loved ones,” she said.

Schultz said numerous people have stopped at her personal memorial to say a prayer or thank the couple for constructing it.

“It brings people back to reality that this did happen,” she said. “Nobody ever forgets 9/11.”

Sept. 11 Memorial Run/walk

Sturgeon Bay City Hall

Sunday, Sept. 11, 9 am

10k and 5k runs and a 2.5k family walk

Same-day registration begins at 7:30 am. Pre-registration at active.com. Cost is $20 for age 15 and over; $15 for age 6 – 14; Those under age 5 walk free.

A memorial service follows at 10:30 am at Sturgeon Bay City Hall. The Volunteer Center of Door County will sponsor a food drive with a collection site at the start of the run as well.