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By Miriam Raftery

What can be more heartwarming than a tale of heroes banding together to help
victims of two devastating tragedies—East County wildfires and the 9/11
terrorist attacks?

On September 11th, the City of La Mesa held a memorial service honoring rescue
workers and victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks.   The event, held
at the City’s 9/11 memorial at a fire station on Dallas St., had special
significance for some La Mesa firefighters and others in our community.  

In a show of thanks to La Mesa emergency personnel who helped in recovery
efforts at the World Trade Center, New York City Firefighters came to East
County to help local wildfire victims clean up and rebuild  – including
a La Mesa firefighter who lost his home in the Harris fire. 

“We had two people from our fire department who were part of California
Task Force 8, the urban search and rescue forces,” La Mesa Fire Chief
Dave Burke told East County Magazine.  La Mesa fire captains
Scott Springett and Jeff Beeler (now retired) “worked the pile at the
World Trade Center aiding in body recoveries alongside their brothers and sisters
from around the country,” he recalled.  The heroes of 9/11 not only
risked their lives to help in rescue and recovery efforts, but have suffered
health problems including respiratory illnesses as a result, he added.

Moved by help provided by emergency personnel from around the nation, New
York City firefighters formed a nonprofit organization called New York Says
Thank You.  “They wanted to be able to give back for all the care
and support that they received,” Chief Burke said.  “So after
the [2003]Cedar Fire, they came out on their own time to help people here rebuild.”

Then the 2007 Harris fire struck, destroying or damaging thousands more homes
in our region.  “Dan Lachenbruch, one of our men, lost his home
in Rancho Bernardo while he was out fighting the Harris Fire,” Burke
recalled.  So the New York firefighters journeyed cross country again
to help Lachenbruch and other wildfire victims.  “They cleared his
slab of debris and we had a big barbecue,” Burke said.  “He
was very touched, and they wanted to give back.”

Speakers at this year’s “La Mesa Remembers” service included
former Congressman Wadi Deddeh and La Mesa Councilman David Allan, a firefighting
professional who proposed the City’s 9-11 monument, which was paid for
with private donations.   The ceremony also included a non-denominational
prayer led by a local pastor and a pair of bagpipers who performed “Amazing
Grace” to close the service. 

Miriam Raftery, editor of East County Magazine,  is a 25-year
journalist who has won national and local awards for her investigative
reporting and community journalism.  If you are indicated in syndicating
or reprinting this column, please contact editor@eastcountymagazine.org.

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