Weather Updates

Area firefighters remember Sept. 11

Updated: September 23, 2011 3:32PM

Ed Switalski, a shift supervisor for the Pleasantview Fire Protection District, has been busy putting up 1,029 American flags at the district’s three fire stations in Burr Ridge, LaGrange Highlands and Hodgkins.

The 12x18-inch flags, 343 at each of the three stations, are a memorial to the 343 New York City firefighters who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

“We began doing that two years after as something symbolic to remember those 343 who lost their lives on that day,” Switalski said. “I was in the first group that went (in 2005) to respond in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and we ended up working with guys from New York, which has made it a little more personal.”

Battalion Chief Jeff Marciniak of the Oak Brook Fire Department was among the two groups of firefighters from his department that went to New York for the funerals of many New York firefighters who were killed on Sept. 11.

“We wanted to support them and couldn’t go dig through the pile, so we went for support with funerals,” Marciniak said. “Sept. 11 is a very quiet day around here. I wear a New York Fire Department T-shirt, and some of the other guys on my shift also do that. We watch the reruns on Sept. 11 of what happened, too. I don’t know why we watch, but we do.”

Chief Bill Bryzgalski has been with the La Grange Fire Department for more than 27 years. He said firefighters always have had a strong brotherhood.

“It’s a major incident of us anytime someone dies in the line of duty,” he said. “I think this has become a bigger thing because of the magnitude of the loss of life. It was a great loss for the United States and the fire service. You hate to see all of this on TV again because when those guys went in, they didn’t come back out.”

Bryzgalski said the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 will largely be a ceremonial day for La Grange firefighters, who are participating in a few area events

Steve Tullis has been a firefighter in Hinsdale for about seven years, and prior to that worked at the LaGrange Park Fire Department. His father, Art “Bucky” Tullis, worked at the LaGrange Park department for 38 years and was killed in the line of duty May 4, 1999.

Steve Tullis said Sept. 11 has been a pretty solemn day at the Hinsdale Fire Department since he started working there. He expects this year to be no different.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” Tullis said. “Sept. 11 is a tough day for everyone. Some of the guys call other firefighters in different parts of the country just to see how they’re doing.”

Tullis said the tragedy was an extreme example of something all firefighters live with.

“It’s the nature of what we do,” he said. “The risk is always there. Any firefighter I know wouldn’t have thought about it; they would have charged up the stairs without hesitation.”

Clarendon Hills Fire Chief Brian Leahy said Sept. 11 is a special day for all firefighters.

“It does bond all of the firefighters,” he said. “I remember this day very well 10 years ago. We all knew there was a problem with terrorism, but didn’t know where it was going to hit next. We locked down fire stations, schools and other critical facilities after the attacks.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.