Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 | 7:15 p.m.
Paul Geidel clutched his son’s photograph this morning as the firefighter’s First Alarm bell rang outside Las Vegas Fire Station No. 5.
Three sets of three tolls echoed into the air, a tribute to the firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Geidel sat silent in his New York City Fire Department uniform, his mind once again returning to that fateful day 12 years ago.
He was in Canada when the attack occurred, but his son Gary was working. Gary was a FDNY firefighter and first responder to the attacks. He was supposed to be on vacation that day, but he decided to work a little overtime four days before his retirement. Geidel spent the next nine months digging through the rubble for his son, but he never could find him.
So every year on Sept. 11, Geidel attends a remembrance no matter where he is. This year Geidel, who lives in Henderson, attended the ninth-annual event in Las Vegas.
“Every time 9/11 rolls around I try to find a place where there’s a memorial being held … I happened to find this one here,” Geidel said. “I had to be over here. I wouldn’t miss it.”
More than 100 firefighters, police officers with black sashes over their badges for fallen officers and residents attended the somber ceremony on a fittingly cloudy morning. An American flag that had flown over ground zero, hung at half-mast, and a piece of rusted steel from the World Trade Center sat on display as constant reminders of that fateful day.
A children’s choir sang the "Star-Spangled Banner" and a color guard placed flags into coiled yellow hoses. The ceremony included speeches from Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Metro Police Underchief Jim Dixon, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Chief William McDonald and Clark County Fire Chief Bert Washington.
Each spoke about the fear and anger many felt that day, but also the resiliency Americans showed. They paid tribute to the 343 firefighters, 72 police officers and numerous civilians who died in the attacks.
“This tragic day still resonates here in Las Vegas and throughout the county, state and country,” Goodman said. “Those who perpetrated the attacks obviously wanted to leave a legacy of fear, but we are resilient. That was not the result. Instead we have a legacy of vigilance, heroism and true testimony of what we as American people coming together can do in a time of crisis.”
Throughout the event, a woman wiped tears from her reddened eyes; police and firefighters looked on with solemn faces. Even now, 12 years later, the impact of the actions on Sept. 11 could be felt.
“I was born in New York and I have family living there now, so it was quite emotional,” said Tanya Cox, whose daughter sang in the choir. “Even today it affects us, the loss of life and destruction of a city.”
Bill High, who is a retired FDNY firefighter like Geidel, said he had several friends die in the Sept. 11 attacks. He remembers being in shock when he first heard the news; it seemed so much like a movie, he couldn’t believe it. A similar death toll that befell the FDNY would’ve wiped out the entire Las Vegas Fire & Rescue department, he said.
Today, he is glad events like the one at the fire station are staged so people don’t forget.
“It’s good to see one day this will be a national remembrance,” High said. “I just thank the Las Vegas Fire Department for putting events like this on so people remember.”
For Geidel, the ceremony allowed him to once again pay tribute to his son. After the tolling of the bells, Geidel watched as the honor guard performed a 21-gun salute and played taps.
Like so many people that day, his life was irrevocably changed by the actions of a few. He has never been able to find his son, but his son's memory will always be with Geidel. The tattoo on his left shoulder says it all. It is a picture of Gary posing for his FDNY firefighter staff picture with the words: “Never forget.”