Two years ago, in light of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, Rev. Bill Dawson, pastor of the Sistersville United Methodist Church, worked with other members of the community to begin a new tradition.
That tradition, which he hopes will eventually gain state and national recognition, is properly titled Heroes Day. It honors the memory of those lost on Sept. 11 and recognizes the men and women who currently serve as firefighters, law enforcement officers, and EMS workers. In addition to being chaplain of the Sistersville Volunteer Fire Department, Rev. Dawson is also a firefighter, first responder (EMS), and public information officer.
This year's commemoration will begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8, with a Heroes Day Worship Service in the Sistersville United Methodist Church. After the service, a covered dish dinner for all of those who serve the community will be held in the fellowship hall of the United Methodist Church, lasting from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
During the 2011 Heroes Day ceremony, our local heroes stand at the edge of the stage in Sistersville City Park as Pastor Bill Dawson explains the importance of their active roles.
At 2 p.m., a parade will feature community first responders driving emergency response vehicles along state Route 2 and down Wells Street before heading to the Sistersville City Park. Vehicles will begin lining up at Riverside Drive at 12:30 p.m.
Following the parade, everyone is invited to the park, where they can meet and learn more about those who protect and serve.
Demonstrations will include: the use of fire department equipment, such as the jaws of life and possible fire truck rides for children; officers working with their canine partners and the Sistersville Police Department taking the fingerprints of children; blood pressure screening and blood glucose checks by Sistersville General Hospital; the presence of AirEvac helicopters; an appearance by Smokey the Bear; and other activities.
On the morning of Sept. 11 Rev. Dawson urges all churches and organizations that have bells to recognize the times the planes crashed by ringing their bells for one minute's length at each interval. The first at 8:46 a.m., when American Flight 11 crashed into the South World Trade Center (WTC) Tower; the second at 9:03 a.m. when United Flight 175 crashed into the South WTC Tower; the third at 9:40 a.m., when American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon; and the last at 10:07 a.m., when United Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
While Heroes Day pays tribute to those who have given their lives for community and country, Rev. Dawson emphasized the importance of honoring those who are among us, continuing to keep us safe. He shared his inspiration for starting the event.
"Two years ago when we were planning this, it came to me about not only remembering the first responders from September 11, the people who went into the buildings and gave their lives, but about also recognizing those who are still with us today," he said.
He said that in 2011 he contacted Roger Romine, who took the idea to the governor's office. Although the governor was initially on board to sign and proclaim Sept. 11 as Heroes Day in West Virginia, he was prevented from doing so because President George W. Bush, in 2002, had declared that date Patriot Day.
That date may be taken, but Rev. Dawson is continuing his efforts to expand Heroes Day from Sistersville to a nationally recognized holiday; he said that he has even submitted paperwork seeking to proclaim Sept. 11 a National Heroes Day.
Rev. Dawson also indicated the dwindling number of volunteer firefighters nationwide and suggested that spreading awareness will help inspire more people to join a noble cause. He shared what inspired him to become a volunteer firefighter and EMS member.
"When the fire whistle would blow, the firefighters would go by and I would stand with my friends," he said. "They would wave and blow the air horn for us."
He said that he and his friends were anxious to turn 16 so they could join the junior firefighters and described the immense support that firefighters and other responders formerly received from small town communities.
"People would stop for the firefighters as a sign of respect," he said. "I think we've lost that. I hope that Heroes Day can recapture a sense of community and volunteering."
For more information or to participate in Heroes Day activities, contact Rev. Dawson at 304-652-2794 or 304-771-5161.