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Kern County Fire Chief: The defining moment of a generation

20210630-bc-newfirechief (copy)

Aaron Duncan

Every generation has one of those defining moments where you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news. For our grandparents, it may have been Pearl Harbor. For our parents, it may have been when President John F. Kennedy was shot. For us, it is that fatal day of Sept. 11, 2001. Everyone has a story of where they were, what they were doing and what they were feeling.

For me, I was working on a wildland fire on the Stanislaus National Forest. The morning of, my crew and I started hearing buzz around fire camp that something was happening in New York. Since we were deep in the forest, cellphone/internet services were nonexistent. The television we had available to us had rabbit-ear antennas. As the news began to stream in, I was continually adjusting the antenna to make sure we could get a better view of what was going on.

Because of that vantage point, my view was the faces of the men and women watching the news happen. I remember vividly the looks of disbelief that quickly turned to solemness. As the shock set in, the trickling of names began being called over the fire radio channels with firefighters and military personnel being taken off of the fire line to report immediately for duty at their home departments and bases.

It is hard to believe that our generation’s “moment” is now 20 years in our past. As Americans, I know we can all go back to that day and have palpable reactions to the replaying of photos, videos, media reports and documentaries. It is a moment we will never forget.

There were many heroes that day, including 343 firefighters who ran into those towers and never made it out. They made the ultimate sacrifice. They went into work thinking it was going to be a normal day not knowing it would be their last. It was, in fact, a day of infamy and sorrow, but it also brings a sense of togetherness and solidarity for the country we live in. Our country was targeted but we remained resilient, and greatness came out of our response.

This same greatness is displayed day in and day out throughout our fire department and by all first responders. Our communities have firefighters who get up every day, not knowing what the day will bring, yet ready to face it all head-on. Our firefighters and first responders should be living reminders of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Reminders of the honor, duty and sacrifice displayed that hallowed day and all days since. Reminders for our generation and future generations: We will never forget.

Aaron Duncan is the Kern County fire chief and director of emergency services.