Arlington firefighter Aaron Boede, 30 (left), and acting Capt. Greg Koontz with a steel beam that was recovered from ground zero after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A memorial display at Arlington’s Fire Station 46 is visible from the street and open to the public. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Arlington firefighter Aaron Boede, 30 (left), and acting Capt. Greg Koontz with a steel beam that was recovered from ground zero after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A memorial display at Arlington’s Fire Station 46 is visible from the street and open to the public. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Firefighters help today’s kids understand the meaning of 9/11

In Arlington, students can see and touch a 13-foot steel beam recovered from the World Trade Center.

Aaron Boede was in seventh grade at Arlington’s Post Middle School that sunny September morning. He’s now a firefighter.

“I woke up in between the first and second planes hitting the towers,” he said Monday during a lunch break at Arlington’s Fire Station 46. “I remember the view on TV, how they just kept showing it.”

On Wednesday, the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Station 46 will host eighth-graders from Post Middle School. And at 7 p.m., the station will welcome the public at a memorial event, one of several in Snohomish County.

Visitors to Station 46 will see — and be able to touch — a piece of history. Part of the fire department’s Arlington Remembers display is a 4,373-pound, 13-foot beam recovered from the World Trade Center. Steel pieces were distributed to museums, fire departments, military bases and airports nationwide for memorials to honor those killed.

In 2011, four Arlington firefighters drove to New York City to pick up the massive artifact at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey stored pieces of the destroyed twin towers. Arlington’s display, at 137 N. Macleod Ave., was finished in 2014. Local people and organizations raised thousands of dollars for the project.

“They did a really nice job. There was lots of fundraising,” said Greg Koontz, 46, a firefighter and acting captain with the department. His voice filled with emotion as he recalled all those who died on 9/11. At Arlington’s Fire Station 47, Koontz said he and other firefighters spent much of that awful day “staring at the TV.”

Tragedy struck his community in 2014 when the Oso mudslide killed 43 people. During the recovery, Koontz was away from his family for a whole week. On Monday he shed tears for the 343 firefighters whose 9/11 sacrifices meant they never came home to their families.

Now 30, Boede said it took him years to fully understand what happened during his first month of seventh grade. “Every year, I watch something about 9/11, and I learn something,” said Boede, who’s not sure if the attacks influenced his career choice.

Today’s middle schoolers hadn’t been born in 2001. To them, the events of that day are history.

“Major events that happened during your life, you never forget where you were,” said Arlington Fire Chief Dave Kraski. For him, those include the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

“I was in a current world problems class at Arlington High School. My mom related to the assassination of President Kennedy,” he said.

The chief was with the Arlington Fire Department on Sept. 11, 2001, but was off work that day. He’ll never forget holding his daughter, 3, at the time, and watching TV in disbelief. “When the first tower collapsed, I just remember thinking there are so many people inside that building,” Kraski said.

Paul Dobberfuhl, an assistant principal at Post Middle School, said about 200 eighth-graders from the school will visit the 9/11 display at Fire Station 46. They’ll talk with firefighters Wednesday and see a presentation explaining the attacks.

A former middle school history teacher, Dobberfuhl said the field trip fits in with the eighth-graders’ U.S. history curriculum. “At this age, they’re starting to form opinions,” Dobberfuhl said.

“Being able to see the beam and touch the beam, it makes it real to them,” he said. “This is part of the structure they’ve heard about and now see on television. It’s a great opportunity for them to make that connection with a piece of history.”

Dobberfuhl, 41, is a University of Idaho graduate. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was student teaching in Idaho’s tiny town of Potlatch. At the combined junior high and high school, Dobberfuhl and his students watched the live coverage. “Even in that rural setting, there were a lot of questions about safety,” he said.

From infants to today’s high school seniors, kids have grown up in a world shaped by what older generations witnessed on Sept. 11, 2001.

“You and I remember going to the airport and walking right out to the area where people get on the plane. Or going into a sporting event and walking right in,” Dobberfuhl said. “These kids don’t know anything but having security lines. They’ll say, ‘Wow, you were able to just walk into an airport?’

“That’s a foreign world to them,” Dobberfuhl said. “The world definitely has changed.”

It’s uncommon for a big group of eighth-graders to sit quietly, but that’s what happens at Fire Station 46. “You can hear a pin drop when the firefighters are talking,” he said.

Dobberfuhl believes the story of 9/11 needs to be told, year after year.

“If we don’t — especially now that we’re teaching kids who weren’t around — it would be lost without the continued observance of what it means, and what people went through and are still going through.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Sept. 11 events

Marysville: Marysville firefighters and police officers will mark 18 years since the 9/11 attacks with a public ceremony at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Police and Firefighters Memorial outside the Marysville Public Library, 6120 Grove St. Along with commemorating the nearly 3,000 lives lost, the event will honor Marysville Fire District Lt. Jeff Thornton, who died Sept. 11, 2001, after battling cancer.

Edmonds: South County Fire will host a public 9/11 Memorial Ceremony at 9:11 a.m. Wednesday at the Fallen Firefighter Memorial Park at Edmonds Fire Station 17, 275 Sixth Ave. N. The park’s 9/11 Memorial includes a 1-ton beam recovered from the World Trade Center. The ceremony will feature the South County Fire Honor Guard and a talk by retired Snohomish County First District 1 Capt. Andy Speier. A former New York firefighter, Speier joined in the ground zero search in 2001.

Arlington: A public ceremony honoring those lost in the Sept. 11 attacks is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Arlington Remembers memorial at the Arlington Fire Department’s Fire Station 46, 137 N. Macleod Ave. The display includes a 4,373-pound, 13-foot steel beam recovered from the World Trade Center.

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