9-11: Heroism shown on Sept. 11 unites Shelby County's emergency workers

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Those profound events -- among our worst days -- brought together their missions.

By Lisa King

No one has ever forgotten the terrible loss of American life 10 years ago at the hands of terrorists.

Shelby County Sheriff Mike Armstrong called it one of the worst days in our nation’s history.

Now, a decade after al-Qaida terrorists killed 3,000 people in four separate attacks in New York City, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania, as the nation prepares to honor its dead on Sunday, many are reflecting upon the changes that terrible day has wrought on our society.

In Shelby County, the answer is clear.

“It really brought us together in a way that we never envisioned,” said Emergency Services Director Todd Early. “And our strength lies in helping each other.”

Early heads up the Shelby Task Force, a 75-member hazmat team that was established as a direct consequence of the events of that tragic day in 2001.

Armstrong said that the events of September 11 taught the law enforcement and emergency services agencies of America a hard lesson.

“It made us aware of how vulnerable we were,” he said. “It made us realize that we need each other more than we thought we did.”

Armstrong said that realization has led to a new level of cooperation between agencies.

“Communication is better between everyone, and we have a lot better working relationship with federal agencies than we ever had before,” he said.

Shelbyville Police Chief Bob Schutte agreed.

“It had a major impact on law enforcement across the country, on agencies both large and small,” he said. “We try to coordinate more on things now and work together.”

Emergency Management Agency Director Charlie Frazee said the impact in his division has been tremendous.

“The major thing that came out of that tragedy is that it forced the government to be more prepared across the board, at local, state and federal levels,” he said. “Especially in areas of emergency management, certainly we worked together before September eleventh, but we didn’t work together and train together as much as we do now. It has lead to better organization at all levels, and more than that, there is just a close-knit feeling that wasn’t there before, at least, not in the same way.”

Captain Chris Spaulding with the Shelbyville Fire Department said that a program created by the federal government in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks is one that has proven very beneficial to fire districts across the nation, and Shelbyville is no exception.

“We use NIMS (National Incident Management System) all the time,” he said, explaining the concept of the program is to enable different fire and police agencies to function as one entity whenever the occasion calls for it.

“The way it’s set up, we have a universal response, because each county normally uses a different code system,” he said. “With NIMS, we all understand each other.”

Another thing that came of the attacks is more training is required, not just for law enforcement, but also for firefighters.

Rusty Newton, chairman of the Shelby County 911 Board, said that smaller communities, like Shelbyville, have felt the impact of more strict training requirements imposed by the federal government more than larger cities have.

“Places like New York, this is something they deal with all the time, whereas we may not ever come up against something like that,” he said. “But we realize now, everybody has to be prepared.”

Armstrong said people need to keep the big picture in mind.

“We need to remember that a lot of heroes died that day, people that most of us will know about,” he said. “Most people were trying to get out of the towers that day, but emergency services people were trying to get in, to save innocent lives. A lot of good people lost their lives that day, and we should never forget that.”


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Sept. 11 observances



What: Presentations to first responders

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Simpsonville Fall Festival in main tent in front Our Lady of Guadalupe



What:  Memorial service featuring guest speakers, posting of colors, fly over

When: 4 p.m.

Where: Shelby Christian Church