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Rockford leaders and first responders commemorate 20 years since 9/11

One district chief reflects on the unity he felt among fellow first responders that morning.
Published: Sep. 11, 2021 at 10:13 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 11, 2021 at 10:16 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - One Rockford fire fighter said he remembers the 9/11 attack like it was yesterday.

“I was at home. I was not on duty that day, but when the attacks occurred, I remember everyone’s phones blowing up,” said Rockford District Fire Chief Will Pederson.

When he heard about the hijacking responsible for killing thousands, he rushed into the Rockford fire station. He said he felt overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and shock.

“I felt more overwhelmed with trying to figure out what was the implication of all this,” said Pederson. “Not knowing where were these attacks coming from. Were the attacks over, or was there something more to come?”

He joined his comrades to try and make sense of the tragedy.

“We weren’t sure what was going to happen next,” he said.

Dozens of community members, local leaders and first responders gathered outside the Winnebago County Justice Center Saturday to reflect on how that moment changed the course of American history. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Americans emerged stronger and wiser, taking a horrific tragedy and turning it into a way to unify. Twenty years later, Pederson said that unity still runs deep.

“The 343 fire fighters. The 60 policeman, and the eight paramedics that were killed in New York City. That hits home,” said Pederson. “Because, I identify as one of those people, and they identify as who we are, together. So, I really did think about the fact that would wipe out our entire force here in Rockford.”

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