9/11 reminds us to thank those who respond to disasters

Posted on 13. Sep, 2012 by

Rhome police officer and Northwest school resource officer Jeff Douglas, center, was among those in attendance at a 9/11 program Tuesday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty,

I attended a program at the Texas Motor Speedway Tuesday where local police, medics and firefighters were honored for their service as part of a 9/11 service. Those honored were from departments that served the communities that make up the Northwest school district.

Honestly at times it felt more like a pep rally for the speedway and the school (there were bands playing, cheerleaders leading cheers, a NASCAR driving talking about racing cars and finally games on the track and infield where students from each of the district’s three high schools competed against each other) than a ceremony honoring first responders.

It’s nice that the kids got to see and ask questions of a famous athlete, but I was hoping that maybe the kids might get to talk to those first responders – to ask them about their jobs, or about the 9/11 attacks.

I wish they might have been able to talk to someone like Stanly Hempstead, one of those first responders in attendance. I spoke with him after the program. Here’s a sidebar to the story that ran in the midweek Messenger:

One of the first responders in attendance has a unique perspective on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks because he went to Ground Zero in New York five days after 9/11.

Stanley Hempstead, a medical specialist with the Denton Fire Department, spent 10 days as part of a search and rescue team, Texas Task Force 1. He told This Justin after Tuesday’s ceremony that the 9/11 anniversary brings back “a lot of emotions.”

“It was an emotional roller coaster while you were up there,” Hempstead said of the search process. “Every time they thought they might find somebody (alive) or every time you got a dog hit and you’re trying to dig and search a void — obviously we didn’t find any.”

Hempstead has been a member of the task force, one of 28 Federal Emergency Management Agency teams from around the United States, since 1997. He’s also assisted with the space shuttle Columbia crash in 2003, Hurricane Katrina recovery in 2005 and he just got back from helping out with recovery from Hurricane Isaac.

“That’s what it is designed for, so we can go out there and help the local responders who are usually overwhelmed,” he said. “So we are a federal asset and a state asset, depending on who pulls the trigger on us. When we go out the door, we’ve got about $6 million worth of equipment that goes with us. We’re self-supported for up to about five days, meaning we bring our own food and water so we are not a burden on the infrastructure that’s already been damaged.”

Through a side business, Hempstead works with school districts, including Northwest, coordinating their Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) schools. Many of the students he now works with were only 5 or 6 years old at the time of attacks.

“They ask, more about what happened … they’re still trying to wrap their heads around what happened, not the severity of it,” he said. “For the first time we had terrorists hit the United States on our land.
“It’s going to be incumbent on our generation to instill that in them that this can’t ever happen again, and to do that, we’ve got to stay vigilant.”

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