Candles in the Night

Candles in the Night

With lighted candles and music, City of Fairfax officials and residents paid their respects to the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the more recent victims of the Hurricane Katrina disaster Sunday, Sept. 11 in the Veterans Amphitheater.

Musical performances paid tribute to the tragic events. The City of Fairfax Band played the national anthem and "Hymn to the Fallen," Lt. Francis Mensah of the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department sang "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban, and Pete O'Brien of the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Emerald Society Pipe Band played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes. Students in the Fairfax High School a capella choir also performed.

"The events of Sept. 11 were not something any of us could predict, and four years later, we see things differently," said Christopher Browne, currently a manager at Dulles International Airport. On Sept. 11, 2001, Browne was working at Reagan National Airport and witnessed the events first-hand.

Browne said he remembers the beautiful weather that morning. After the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, he said, the airport issued an emergency recall, and then, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon.

"Even from the depths of the terminal, you could still feel the reverberations," said Browne. Later in the day, he said, burning and charred material filled the air.

"Suddenly, in that moment, an airport was a terribly uninviting place," said Browne. He had to continue working, however, and remembers "compartmentalizing [his] emotions" in order to do so. Only days later, he said, would he be able to think about what had happened.

Browne praised the "rapid and professional actions by hundreds of air-traffic controllers who brought air traffic to a sudden halt," he said.

ALTHOUGH THE events of Sept. 11, 2001 may have caused many people to become cynical, said Browne, the actions of fire and rescue personnel are reasons to stay hopeful.

"Who can ever forget the images of firefighters and police entering the doomed buildings?" he said.

For Jeff Serbu of Centreville, Sept. 11 changed everything. "There's not a relaxed attitude about public safety or day-to-day lives anymore," he said. Serbu, an employee with the federal government, said he is working on an overseas project to fight terrorism.

"I feel pretty lucky, I can get out and do something," he said.

For firefighters, 2001's terrorist attacks and this year's natural disaster are always present, said Capt. Andrew Vita of the City of Fairfax Fire & Rescue Department.

"For us, the Sept. 11 stuff is in everyone's mind every day," said Vita. "At any moment, the city could lose four or five of us in a single afternoon."

On Sept. 14, the City Fire Department was supposed to send 10 firefighters to the Gulf Coast to work on Hurricane Katrina efforts. This was canceled at the last minute, said Vita, but in the next month, at least 20 firefighters will go down to the disaster area. Vita said that he has put in to go.

"In this business, those bad things are like work," he said. "We don't sit at the station hoping bad stuff will happen, but when it does, we do our job."

Vita realizes that rescue work along the Gulf Coast will be vastly different than working in the City of Fairfax, but feels prepared.

"Every guy here would do it in a second," he said. "Some have families, though."

"I think everybody should take some responsibility and help with any talents they have," said Serbu.

Vita said he hoped that, if anything, the Hurricane Katrina disaster would make people realize the importance of being prepared.

"Hopefully, it lets the average citizen have the opportunity to think, 'What if it happened here?'" he said.