Sarah Hull was 6 months old when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Today, she sang the national anthem with her school choir at the 9/11 memorial ceremony at the Port Jefferson Fire Department.
“I felt happy to be a part of the ceremony,” she said. “And I feel lucky that no one in my family died.”
Hull said it was likely another memorial ceremony over the past 10 years made her aware of the tragedy. She doesn’t remember the exact conversation, but she guesses that she probably asked her mother, ‘What’s everyone so upset about?’ and was told about the two planes that crashed into the towers and the thousands of people that died.
About 100 people gathered at the Port Jefferson Fire Department for what former chief Desmond O’Sullivan called a "beautiful and simple" ceremony on Sunday morning. As members of the Port Jefferson, Mount Sinai, Setauket and Terryville fire departments stood at attention, the flag was lowered to half-mast and the names of deceased members of the New York City fire and police departments who were from the Town of Brookhaven were read out loud.
Capt. Dave Loper, a member of the FDNY, responded to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and was emotional throughout the ceremony. With a cracking voice, he helped O’Sullivan read the roll call of the members lost.
O’Sullivan asked the crowd to examine the term "hero." He said a true hero is someone who sees and understands the danger he is in, and fulfills his duty anyway.
He called Loper a hero and said he was nearly killed in the south tower when it collapsed, but continued to organize the rescue effort until he was hit by debris and knocked unconscious when the north tower fell.
“And he will never tell you he did anything extraordinary,” O’Sullivan said.
James Scholl, former chief of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, said a small village so far from Ground Zero feels connected to the attacks through their fellow members who were there.
The Port Jefferson Fire Department sent a truck with about seven members to help with recovery and cleanup, and many members, like Loper, were also members if the city fire department.
"Now, we do everything we can to just support Dave," he said.
Nick Acampora, of Port Jefferson, worked for the Department of Environmental Conservation and was called to Ground Zero in October 2011 to help assess the environmental impact. He said he was unprepared for what he would see there: piles of debris, steel workers still trying to cut through and remove fallen beams, bodies being removed.
“It was tough. That first night when I got back,” he began, shaking his head at his wife, Lisa. “That was tough.”
For many reasons, but 9/11 being one of them, Acampora has since joined the Port Jefferson Fire Department. At 51, he’s the oldest trainee in the department.
“9/11 was a part of it,” he said. “I just wanted to be part of something bigger than myself.”
Hull, whose father, James Grundhoffer, has also joined the fire department since 2001, answered a question posed to her father about how people in Port Jefferson were connected to the attacks.
“I bet people in Hawaii and Alaska are thinking about this day even though it didn’t happen near them,” she said. “And it’s a bigger deal for us because we’re in the same state and some people have family that were there.”