September 11, 2001 was a day that changed the world. The death of thousands of innocent people at the hands of terrorists was the worst of human behavior. But their horrific acts united the world and brought out the very best in human nature. September 11 is a solemn and sacred day in the United States, a time when the nation stops to remember the events of that tragic day and honor those who were lost. 9/11 is especially significant to our nation's first responders. They are the everyday heroes who answer the call for help, rushing into danger while others run from it. The heroic actions of our first responders – their selfless service, sense of duty and dedication to serving others – was a source of pride and inspiration for a wounded and grieving nation.
Twenty years later, it still is.
That’s part of the reason why my fellow Zebra David Singer continues to serve as a volunteer firefighter and chairman of the Rocky Point Fire Department 9/11 Community Memorial.
A Drive to Serve (and Desire to Drive)
David joined the Rocky Point Fire Department in New York in 2002. He had recently relocated to Long Island, didn't know anybody, and thought joining the fire department would be a good way to integrate into his new community. He attributes this to his father who instilled into his children the importance of family, community and giving back to others. What David didn't realize was that being a firefighter would become a way of life – he's been doing it for the past 18 years and has no plans of slowing down.
Along with acting as the chairman of the department's 9/11 memorial, he also serves as the chairman for the department's New Member Committee (focused on the recruitment and integration of new firefighters) and as the secretary for his fire company. I asked David if he has any aspirations for becoming a fire chief, and his response was "I don't want to be an officer. I like driving the fire truck."
He also appreciates the privilege of honoring those who ran straight into the rubble that September day 20 years ago to save the lives of others, sacrificing their own.
The Responsibility to Remember
As part of his official duties as Chairman of the Rocky Point Fire Department 9/11 Community Memorial, David coordinates the annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony, serving both as event host and master of ceremonies. Each year roughly 400 people attend the event to celebrate the heroism of first responders and strength of those who lost loved ones on 9/11.
David does various things to prepare, including spending the entire day on September 11 at the outdoor memorial. Regardless of the weather, he is there and provides small American flags for visitors. People come from around the area to pay their respects and place a flag next to the name of a loved one, friend or colleague. David stands in the background; he knows it is a very emotional time for the visitors.
"The most difficult part isn't speaking and addressing the audience, it's the preparation,” says David. “Finding the proper words, delivering a message that is relevant today and balancing the sorrow with a message of hope for the future is what's hard.”
The memorial opened to the public on September 11, 2011, but it took years of planning and coordination. The department worked with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to obtain the piece of steel from the twin towers that serves as the memorial's focal point. The twisted steel "I-beam" is centered in a 24-foot reflection pool. Behind it is a 45-foot curved concrete and granite wall with the names of those who died on 9/11 cut into it. You can view the pond from any spot on the grounds and see the names from the wall reflecting on the water. It is truly a sight to see. Seeing the reactions it elicits from visitors sparks mixed emotions, though.
"Most people are private and remain silent, but there are some who will come up to me and share their stories of family members or friends who were lost that day. The pain they still feel is evident. I do everything I can to remain composed, but I am not always successful," reflects David.
Two years ago, he and his family took a trip to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada to get some inspiration for the 2019 event. Halifax played a significant role in the 9/11 response as U.S. airspace was closed, leaving dozens of airborne aircraft over the Atlantic with no place to land. Halifax Stanfield International Airport allowed 40 aircraft carrying 8,000 passengers to land that day – well beyond the airport's capacity.
As David recalls, "Halifax Stanfield accepted the greatest number of aircraft of any airport. The people of Halifax rallied to support the stranded passengers, and many opened up their homes to complete strangers – the best of human nature.”
Reflecting on Today’s Culture
Zebra has a culture of inclusion and community that can be seen in the Holtsville, New York office. A number of Holtsville Zebras are volunteer firefighters. In fact, the majority of the facility's Zebra Emergency Response Team (ZERT) members are volunteer firefighters. David reflected on this unique element of Zebra culture when we connected not too long ago.
"Zebra is much like the Long Island firefighter community: we mutually support each other. I work with a fantastic group of people at Zebra. Many times, I find myself at the scene of a fire standing beside those same people – covered in soot-stained gear, oxygen masks on, handling hoses, swinging axes, racing up ladders or providing first aid. I am very proud to be associated with them. You can't do something like being a volunteer firefighter without the support of others. Our families must be bought in because they end up making many sacrifices. Zebra plays a big part as well. We are able to do these things and support our community because Zebra gives us the flexibility we need. Zebra doesn't just talk about community outreach, they live it."
If you’re in the Long Island, NY, area and would like to attend the ceremony in person, you can find more details here. The ceremony will also be live streamed on Facebook starting at 7:00 pm Eastern on September 11 if you would like to show your support and see David in action.