PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Amid a convention packed with fun-filled activities for firefighters, their families and visitors from across the state, a crowd of more than 100 people at the Maine State Federation of Firefighters convention paused Saturday afternoon to honor those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A remembrance ceremony was held as part of the 47th annual convention, which took place on the Northern Maine Fairgrounds beginning Friday and wrapping up Sunday. Its host this year is the Presque Isle Fire Department.
The firefighters convention occurs at a different location in the state each year. The last time it was held in Aroostook County was in 2005, when it took place in Houlton.
An estimated 600 firefighters were in Presque Isle for the convention. Trucks and personnel from Hudson, Bradley, Fort Kent, Kennebunk, Ellsworth and Dover-Foxcroft were just a handful of departments represented at the convention Saturday.
The Sept. 11 ceremony was attended by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Mike Michaud. U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe was unable to attend, but a staff member read written remarks on her behalf.
During the ceremony, the names of every Maine firefighter who died this year were read aloud. Prayers were offered for those men and women and for those who were killed during the terrorist attacks.
Speakers gave remarks from a podium surrounded by a float belonging to the Ellsworth Fire Department that is a replica of the Maine Firefighters’ Memorial in Augusta.
The three-panel memorial honors those who have died in the line of duty. The center panel of the monument depicts firefighters in action, including one carrying an infant from a fire. The flanking panels display the federation seal and the Firefighter’s Prayer.
Next to the float was a replica of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, surrounded by flowers, firefighter helmets and turnout gear.
The crowd was awed by a group of children from the Bradley and Hudson areas — Ethan Bean, Kaitlynn Bean, Jacob Bean, Kennen Bean and Hannah Sirois — who played a large part in the celebration by sporting miniature firefighter’s dress uniforms and holding the U.S. flag and other firefighting tools, including axes and a helmet. The youths, ages 6 through 10, led the way in and out of the ceremony with the items and held them solemnly throughout the proceedings.
The Rev. Daniel Coffin, the chief fire chaplain for the Fire Chaplains of Maine, a division of the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association, offered prayers and remarks at the ceremony, telling the crowd that he was “honored” to attend the event and to express gratitude to those who gave their lives to save others on the day of the attacks nine years ago.
“Our hearts ache on this day of remembrance,” he said.
Collins noted that she got many invitations to attend 9-11 remembrance ceremonies Saturday, but said the only place she wanted to be was in Presque Isle to attend the convention’s remembrance ceremony.
“September 11 was a day of horror,” said Collins. “It also was a day of heroism, a day when first responders, as well as some ordinary citizens, taught us what the true meaning of heroism is.”
She noted that firefighters “head into danger that others flee,” risking their lives to save those of strangers.
“The people you serve and protect, whose lives you save, and whose communities you guard, are grateful to you every day,” Collins told the crowd.
Michaud also said he was “honored to be here among so many of our state’s heroes.”
He told the crowd that remembering Sept. 11 also meant recalling the courage that was displayed on that day by many of the nation’s firefighters.
“Firefighters are heroes for risking their lives for us,” said Michaud. “But they are also heroes because they are pillars of our community and role models for our children.”
In written remarks, Snowe noted that the firefighters and other first responders who attended the convention knew that the colleagues who gave their lives on Sept. 11 “did their mission without regret.”
They didn’t think of themselves that day, she wrote. They only thought of saving lives.
“It is with this somber thought, that today rings even more poignantly as we gather to pay respects to the fallen, but also to celebrate what they gave and what you all continue to give every single time an alarm rings calling you to duty,” Snowe wrote Saturday.
The convention on Saturday was packed with activities for children and adults, beginning with a parade during the morning that started at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.
Crowds lined Main Street and streets on other parts of the parade route as the procession, which included firetrucks and apparatus from most of the participating departments, made its way to the Northern Maine Fairgrounds.
Children waved flags and gathered candy as adults cheered and clapped for a multitude of bands, floats, antique fire equipment and law enforcement personnel during the 2-mile parade.
After the parade, a large crowd filtered to the fairgrounds, where events were held Saturday and Sunday.
Visitors shopped at booths and talked to vendors from throughout New England who were selling food, equipment and convention memorabilia.
Children flocked to the bounce house and to play G-Force Laser tag. Another popular attraction was Big Red, a 1937 International firetruck turned monster truck. Big Red is the world’s longest and heaviest monster truck. Rides were available on Saturday, and proceeds from the event benefited Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Casco for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
Demonstrations also took place, one illustrating how firefighters battle car fires and another showing cars being cut up by a company that sells hydraulic extrication tools to fire departments across the nation.
Visitors had the chance to meet and get autographs from actor Randolph Mantooth, who played paramedic and firefighter Johnny Gage on the TV show “Emergency,” which aired on NBC in the 1970s.