Many first responders from across Washington County were up all night responding to fire calls. That didn’t stop them from paying their respects Wednesday morning during a 9/11 memorial ceremony in South Strabane Township.

Dozens of law enforcement and fire service agencies were represented at an 8:45 a.m. service in the Washington Mall parking lot, which is put on each year by the township’s police and fire departments.

“We will never forget,” said South Strabane Fire Chief Scott Reese after the service. “Every year we say ‘let’s keep this going,’ and every year we add more chairs.”

Veterans, public officials and community members joined in the ceremony to remember the lives lost 18 years ago, in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 dead in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville.

“Today, we honor them,” South Strabane Police Chief Drew Hilk said during the ceremony.

Reese said he was pleased to see a large crowd this year, especially considering some departments had a busy night, with two structure fire calls in Canonsburg.

Canonsburg Fire Chief Tim Solobay said several departments – including North Strabane, Houston, Peters and Muse – assisted with the calls, that came in at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday and 4:20 a.m. Wednesday.

“Sleep is overrated,” Solobay said after the 9/11 service. “It’s what we do. We make a lot of sacrifices and we’re here today to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. This hits home for all emergency services and the least we can do is be here to honor them.”

South Strabane’s fire chaplain Robert Grewe was the main speaker, who read a Psalm during the ceremony. He said the 9/11 first responders “walked into the very shadow of death that day.”

“They were focused on their duty to respond to the call to protect life and property,” he said. “We also know that God was there in the fire and the smoke.”

In Greene County, the Sept. 11 ceremony in Carmichaels began as it has for years – in town square, where borough residents gathered to remember those lost in the terrorist attacks.

The song “Proud to be an American,” rang loud throughout the quiet town square as first responders and residents assembled beneath red, white and blue flags. Mary Lewis of Carmichaels has coordinated this annual morning of remembrance since 2002.

“For me, this is very, very important that we never forget this,” Lewis said. “I hope whenever I’m gone, it continues.”

Before the ceremony, Lewis said her grandson passed out 100 flag pins to the policemen in attendance. The master of ceremonies at this year’s program was American Legion Post 400 Cmdr. William Varesko.

At 8:46 a.m. the Carmichaels & Cumberland Township Fire Department sounded its truck sirens. At that time 18 years ago, the first hijacked plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

Then the Rev. Keith Lawson led an invocation prayer immediately following the somber sirens.

Then attendees heard the words of veteran and retired judge Terry Grimes, the day’s guest speaker. Grimes spoke of the sacrifices first responders make and the pride they deserve. He noted how many first responders continued helping those trapped inside the Twin Towers, even though they knew they wouldn’t all make it out alive.

“That’s the spirit of first responders. That’s the spirit of Americans,” Grimes said. “To do what we can to help others.”

Staff writer Samantha Karam contributed to this story.

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