Vail firefighters remember 9/11 |

Vail firefighters remember 9/11

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyVail Fire Department engineer Ryan Ocepek, right, and firefighter Christopher George carefully monitor the grill full of burgers and hotdogs as Vail firefighter Ryan Sutton, center, looks on Friday at a 9-11 memorial BBQ at the Vail fire station in Vail Village.

VAIL, Colorado –Forgetting, for some, can help the healing process. For firefighters around the country, however, there is no forgetting when it comes to Sept. 11, 2001.

When hijackers took over American jetliners and crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania that day, 343 firefighters lost their lives. It’s a number that firefighters everywhere remember – it’s painted on their fire trucks, printed on their gear and instilled in their minds.

To put the number into context, there have been 70 line-of-duty firefighter deaths so far this year across the United States.

“It was the biggest day in terms of firefighters killed,” said Ryan Ocepek, an engineer with the Vail Fire Department. “There were more firefighters killed than any other day.”

The Vail Fire Department held its annual barbecue Friday to commemorate Sept. 11. Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said the day is a time for the fire department to stand back, remember and reflect.

“Eight years ago this day awakened our hearts, arrested our attention and aroused our courage,” Miller said. “For me, it’s one of those times when you really stand back and look at what you do and why you do it.”

Miller said that on Sept. 11 he realizes the quality of the firefighters he works with – something he doesn’t always do.

“I feel blessed, thankful and honored,” Miller said. “We don’t (think about that) everyday.”

Lt. Scott Bridges, a Vail firefighter, said the day helps him remember those who “gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

Bridges was a Vail firefighter on Sept. 11, 2001, and said he remembers the day very clearly. The firefighters were at shift change and many of them sat in front of the television, as most of the country did, and watched the fires burn.

“We remember those who perished on that day,” Bridges said.

For Ocepek, it’s that number – 343 – that he will always remember. When the firefighters arrive for their shifts they check the line of duty deaths latest update. Any number is too high, but 343 is a number he hopes never happens again.

“Every day we come on shift and always remind ourselves not to be one of those numbers,” Ocepek said.

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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