Firefighters pay tribute to New York colleagues

War against terrorism: Memorial Service
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The Independent Online

It could have been them. And doubtless the thought occurred forcefully to some that it could still be them, were terrorism to strike London in the terrible way it hit New York a month ago.

It could have been them. And doubtless the thought occurred forcefully to some that it could still be them, were terrorism to strike London in the terrible way it hit New York a month ago.

But for the 3,000 British firefighters who gathered at St Paul's Cathedral in London yesterday to honour their American counterparts killed in the attack on the World Trade Centre, the principal feeling in evidence was simple mourning.

The natural fellowship of firefighters across the world was never more in evidence than when members of every brigade in Britain, from London to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, filed quietly in to the service of commemoration for "New York's bravest".

Nearly 350, including many senior officers, had died trying to save the thousands of people caught in the burning twin towers before both buildings collapsed, entombing trapped office workers and would-be rescuers alike. "The loss of lives sustained by the New York Fire Department was unparalleled and has had a tremendous impact on firefighters in this country," said Richard Bull, chairman of the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association, which organised the service. "Firefighters in the UK have a great affinity for their colleagues in New York and since the disaster have been raising money to help the dependants of those who lost their lives."

At the start of yesterday's service, which was attended by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, and the US ambassador, William Farish, members of the US Marine Corps carried the Stars and Stripes alongside members of the London Fire Brigade carrying the Union Flag.

After psalms sung by a choir, firefighters from across the country gave readings.

"It is impossible to find the right words to portray the feelings of the UK fire brigade," Mr Bull told the congregation. "The tragic consequences of what happened that day are beyond the comprehension of day-to-day human experience. It is with the greatest respect that we acknowledge the New York firefighters for the lives they gave."

He told those gathered he had received an e-mail from Thomas Von Essen, chief of the New York Fire Department, who said the New York units were "absolutely overwhelmed by the prayers and gratitude" from the British firefighters.

Canon Stephen Oliver paid tribute to the emergency services. He said: "Words cannot begin to convey the atrocities that happened that day. They were victims of a malevolent evil that threatens the whole world, a threat that puts the emergency services into the front line. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters are officially confirmed dead or missing, but numbers alone cannot convey the truth of their courage. Numbers cannot account for their loss or account for each broken family and every broken heart."

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