Police Chief Gary MacNamara recalled Tuesday that on Sept. 11, 2001, in interview after interview, firefighters, police and EMTs were hailed as heroes, rushing to try and save people in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

"There was all that outpouring of community support," he said, during Fairfield's annual memorial ceremony marking the attacks, people sporting hats and T-shirts with "NYPD" and "NYFD" logos.

But, MacNamara told the local 9/11 commemoration at Fire Department headquarters, these heroes didn't "throw on a cape and appear out of nowhere." They were there the day before, he said, and they were there the day after and they are there today. They aren't comic book heroes, the chief said, just dedicated men and women who decided that helping people would be their life's calling.

"One thing we know about heroes, we can't do it alone," MacNamara said. "We always need help ... They need to know that you are there. They were here yesterday, they're here today, and they'll be here tomorrow."

The ceremony at fire headquarters on Reef Road took place in front of a memorial fashioned from a steel beam that came from one of the destroyed World Trade Center towers.

The day those hijacked jetliners were flown into the Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania, emergency-service personnel performed "selfless acts of bravery," Fire Chief Richard Felner told the gathering.

The 343 firefighters, 34 police offices and 20 EMTs who died that day were not killed in the line of duty, he said, "they were murdered in the line of duty."

While time is said to heal all wounds, Felner added, it cannot heal this one -- "It's too deep."

Next to the podium and a firetruck stood a framed poster entitled, "Better Angels," donated to the Fire Department by former Selectman Sherri Steeneck.

Steeneck explained how Colorado artist Dawn Siebel painted a small portrait of each fallen firefighter on a wood block, a task that took several years to complete the composite images.

"We know this struggle will continue," said Probate Judge Daniel Caruso. "So, too, will we."

First Selectman Michael Tetreau said many times this year Fairfielders have seen the professionalism of their police officers, firefighters and EMTs in action -- at the scene of car accidents, drownings and fires.

"We've seen how they care about our town," Tetreau said, "and how they go over and above the call of duty" even when not working.

The Rev. Charles Allen, chaplain for both the town's police officers and firefighters, told the gathering as he led the audience in prayer: "May we never lose hope or courage."

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