Twelve years on, a crowd of a few dozen gathers to pay tribute to the lives of a few hundred, as well as their own.

When hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in New York, emergency workers did what they are trained to do and rushed to the site as United Airlines Flight 175 was flown into the South Tower shortly after.

The loss of life hit close to home for retired London Deputy Fire Chief Peter Harding who is no stranger to death in the line of duty.

As the names of fallen London firefighters were read out loud as the London Professional Firefighters’ Association held a September 11 Memorial service to honour those who lost their lives while working to preserve the lives of others, one stands out for Harding.

While battling a fire on Richmond Street in 1960, Harding, then 21, held Captain David Moffitt in his arms as he died.

“People do not realize how vulnerable they really are,” said the 38-year veteran. “Anything can happen at any time.”

And while the loss of emergency personnel in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre is poignant for most emergency workers – in all 411 firefighters, police and paramedics were killed – Harding was personally connected when he commanded a St. John Ambulance crew, which included his son, to head to Ground Zero to aid emergency workers on the ground there.

“They were the only Canadian ambulance crew able to work there,” because of their U.S. medical training, Harding explains. The crew worked at the scene for 9 days before the stress became too great. “Everyday, we spoke to the team twice a day, and at a certain point, we began to understand we had to pull them out.”

And while Harding is quick to say the New York City attack is among the most horrendous things he’s seen, he also notes that dangerous situations for both the public and emergency crews can crop up any time, any place.

“You can go right from the chemicals that pass through cities in tanker cars, right to your own home and the gas that is fed right into your own property. Those are all situations that if they go wrong, can all be catastrophic.”

via London Free Press