WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County’s “Essex Remembers” ceremony couldn’t draw the crowd it normally draws to the Eagle Rock Reservation this Sept. 11 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the county was still able to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. A livestream allowed those who normally would have been there in person to tune in and hear the names of the 57 area residents who died in the attacks read aloud.
“It’s as important as ever that we’re here together,” Steve Adubato Jr., who hosted the ceremony, said. “It is our job to bring a powerful message of, We will never forget all those who we lost, those 57 people in Essex County, and remember them as the heroes that they were.”
New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill spoke at the event as well, naming several first responders from Essex County who helped in the relief efforts in 2001.
“On one of our darkest days, we saw the very best of America,” Sherrill said. “First responders like Gary Lynch from the Bloomfield Fire Department. Gary and the Bloomfield firefighters were assigned to help Ladder 105 and Engine 219 in Brooklyn, who were at Ground Zero. After being told they could go home to Jersey, Gary went down to help on the bucket brigades at the pile.”
Sherrill talked about the toxic fumes that first responders and other people who were in lower Manhattan that day were exposed to, leading to respiratory diseases, cancer, sleep apnea and other ailments. The September 11 Victim Compensation Fund was established in 2001 shortly after the attacks, paying out claims for resulting death and illness. It was extended through 2090 in July 2019.
“I believe in this country,” Sherrill said. “I believe in our values. I believe that as a nation, especially in a time of crisis, we know when to step up. That we can use our time on this earth to look out for each other. This public health crisis has again tested our communities, our first responders and all of our citizens. We have lost too many friends and neighbors to this horrible disease, but we’ve also seen acts of heroism both large and small. I thank you all for being here to remember our heroes, because I think they give us a road map for the future.”
Freeholder President Brendan Gill talked about the pride that he felt after the attacks.
“I remember the sense of unity and pride that all Americans felt for our country,” he said at the ceremony. “As we take part in today’s ceremony, let us honor the fallen heroes by embracing those same sentiments we felt 19 years ago. I offer my thanks and gratitude to our first responders, our military, our policemen, firemen and all of our citizens who gave the ultimate sacrifice on that day in 2001.”
Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura also discussed first responders, as he was a police officer in Newark in September 2001. He mentioned several colleagues who died in the aftermath of the attacks when they went to New York to help.
“I remind people that for first responders, not showing up is not an option,” Fontoura said. “When we begin our training, we are reminded that there may come a time when you will be asked to run in somewhere that folks are running away from. If you have a problem with that you can step away, no questions asked. No one will think any less of you. To my knowledge, no one has ever stepped away. Nineteen years ago was a perfect example.”
In the pandemic that has kept many people from going to work and relegated them to their home offices, Fontoura said first responders have not been able to do the same.
“Just like 19 years ago, every one of our officers is showing up every day without hesitation,” he said. “Sick time is as low as it’s ever been. They show up because it’s the right thing to do.”
Other speakers at the ceremony included state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver. Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. mentioned the efforts to create the memorial at Eagle Rock Reservation. Dedicated in October 2002, the memorial, situated in view of the New York City skyline, features a piece of steel from the World Trade Center at its center.
“Nineteen years ago I thought the world would never be the same,” DiVincenzo said. “That continues today. America is strong. We are strong. We love this country. We are going to keep working to move forward. Let us remember those we lost on that day.”
Photos Courtesy of Essex County