They were running up while others were running down the stairs of the Twin Towers.
That theme was the one that was driven home multiple times at the Liberty Corner Fire Co.'s Sunday afternoon dedication of a memorial for the 343 firefighters killed in the Twin Towers on a Sept. 11, 2001.
The memorial, which stands outside the Liberty Corner Firehouse at 95 Church Street in Liberty Corner, is a simple set of concrete stairs leading to a twisted piece of metal from the 9/11 site. The fire company last year obtained the metal from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey with the understanding that it would be used for a memorial to be placed in a public spot.
Township police drove to an airport hangar in New York to pick up the twisted metal piece after the fire company's application to receive the memento had been approved.
The memorial specifically is dedicated to the 343 members of the Fire Department of New York who perished trying to save others at the World Trade Center that day. Several speakers talked of the bravery of those firefighters, and how they may not have considered themselves as heros — but simply as firemen heading up the steps of a burning building, doing their job.
"Firefighters are wll aware of the potential harm that can befall them," said the fire company's first assistant chief, Marc Friedman.
Fire Chief Peter Aprahamian called the firefighters "the bravest of the brave." But he indicated they may simply have viewed themselves as doing what firemen do. Although, he added, "Being a firefighter is not something you do; but something you are."
Even so, as the Liberty Corner Fire Co. President, Ken White said, "No amount of pre-planning ever could have prepared the fire department for that day."
The ceremony's lineup of speakers, accompanied by resident Pat Giammarino of Basking Ridge who sang the National Anthem and Amazing Grace by the local Rampant Lion Band of Scottish pipers, touched on many aspects of both the grief and support that followed 9/11.
Speaking at the end of the ceremony, Rabbi John Schechter of B'Nai Israel in Basking Ridge — who also spoke later that night at a community service held at The Presbyterian Church of Basking Ridge — noted that in the Bible, the highest honors go to those who fall in battle saving their compatriots.
"Everybody's speech meant something," Bridget Tullo, a township resident, said of speeches by fire officials and other elected representatives, including State Sen. Tom Kean, Jr.
Resident Heidi Vigeant attended the ceremony with her fifth grade daugher, Amber. "She and I talked about this," the mother said, adding the topic had been discussed at Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church. "It's a time to stop and pay our respects," she said.
Amber said she had learned that firefighters were running up into the towers as other people were coming down to escape.
Kean told the crowd he had not heard of another 9/11 memorial in New Jersey that has been dedicated specifically to firefighters. "The courage we are celebrating here today is something unique, I believe, in the state of New Jersey," he said of the memorial.
Around the corner, at a memorial for 9/11 that had been dedicated at the township's Harry Dunham Park, the Fire Department of New York City were among those who had sent a simple decorative thank-you to be placed by a wall that is part of the memorial.
By extension, the crowd also remembered others who had been killed from this area. Mayor John Malay said that about two dozen residents had been killed from the Somerset Hills area overall, including 20 from Bernards Township, depending on how residency was counted, and two from Bernardsville. For many that day, "The worst possibility became reality," Malay said, and vehicles left abandoned at area commuter lots told a tale of tragedy in some cases.
Bernardsville Councilman Joseph Rossi was at the ceremony along with members from the Basking Ridge and Bernardsville area with the Bernardsville-based Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7858.
Other fire companies, including the Far Hills-Bedminster Fire Department, also sent trucks and members.
"It's a great tribute to...something we never want to forget," said Basking Ridge Fire Co. Chief Jack McGrath, who attended the ceremony. Firefighter Bill Ludlow ended the ceremony by performing taps.
Even with his support for the memorial, Malay said he believed many residents still are trying to "move on" after an event that resulted in an aftermath that the community members still are "living with day to day."
Several area businesses donated to the project, Friedman said, including R. Maddaluna Landscape Contractors of Bernardsville, Grinnell Concrete Pavingstones in Sparta, Totowa Concrete Products, Liberty Corner Auto Body, which clearcoated the steel, and others.
The Basking Ridge Patch also has filmed videos of some of the major speakers. To view those videos, click here.