Sept. 11/15 years later departments honor the fallen

  • William Millin, the Deputy Chief of the Northampton fire department. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson at the fire station on Friday. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Fire Chief Tim Nelson in the Amherst fire station. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Fire Chief Tim Nelson in the Amherst fire station. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst fire fighter, Joe Lagasse. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Fire Chief Tim Nelson in the Amherst fire station. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Fire Chief Tim Nelson in the Amherst fire station. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2016 1:02:43 AM

On Sept. 11, 2001, Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson, 59, was a fire captain for the Holyoke department. He was testing the hoses that morning.

Nelson, who is also a pilot, remembers the sky that day. He said it was so clear, he could see for miles. “It was a beautiful day to fly,” Nelson said. 

But the start to a normal day at the station came to a halt. At 8:46 a.m., a plane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Nelson stopped what he was doing to watch the news.

As a pilot, Nelson said he could tell right away that it wasn’t an accident. Minutes later, the second plane hit North Tower. By 10:28 a.m., the Twin Towers had collapsed.

Northampton firefighter Ray Langlois, 52, has had that job for 31 years.

“Being a firefighter in New York City is so much different than in a small town,” Langlois said. “For us, (the 9/11 attacks) it would be like World War III. … There’s got to be fire raining down from the building.”

More than 2,700 people died at the World Trade Center and 343 were firefighters and paramedics trying to save them.

“We know this is a risky job,” Nelson said. “It’s still the best job in the world.”

The Northampton Fire Department has held a remembrance ceremony every year since the terrorist attacks, according to Deputy Fire Chief William Millin.

On Sunday, Millin said there will be a small service that will follow a plan of events recommended in previous years by the state Department of Fire Services.

During the ceremony, the bell will ring four sets of five chimes. That 5-5-5-5 code signals the death of a firefighter.

The Amherst Fire Department will hold its 15th annual Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony and is partnering with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation to sponsor a 5K benefit road race.

The race is held in honor of New York City firefighter Stephen Siller who died trying to save others during the World Trade Center attacks. The foundation raises money to build “smart homes” for catastrophically injured service members.

The race will start at the Sylvan residential area of the University of Massachusetts campus at 9:59 a.m. Sunday, the time the first tower fell, and end at the North Fire Station on East Pleasant Street.

The Easthampton Fire Department will also have a ceremony starting at 11 a.m. Sunday, according to the department’s Facebook page.

University of Massachusetts Amherst will ring the chapel bells at 8:46 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 9:37 a.m. and 10:03 a.m. to commemorate the time each of the four planes crashed in 2001. One hit the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

On Friday, the Amherst area Chamber of Commerce executive director Timothy O’Brien said about 100 people, including first responders and fire officials, came to a luncheon hosted by the chamber in remembrance of the Sept. 11 first responders. 

O’Brien’s dad was a firefighter in Springfield. As a child, he said he thought his dad was the coolest guy in the neighborhood. But as he got older, he began to understand why his mother was so worried about his father’s career. He said sometimes his father would come home covered in soot and could not speak for a few days.

O’Brien remembers asking his father why he chose to become a firefighter and said his father responded “Because somebody has to protect us.”

Staff writer Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at

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