Firefighters raise giant flag on 9-11
Post Independent Staff
RIFLE – They arrived quietly – families with small children, couples, singles, people of all ages, Boy Scouts in uniform, firefighters in dark blue – to watch the flag go up.
About 50 people gathered at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 11, in front of the Rifle Fire Protection District station to pay their respects and watch as a gigantic American flag rose up a newly erected 80-foot flagpole in the cold morning air.
Milling around before the flag-raising ceremony, people wandered over to Rifle fire engine 935 parked in front of the station, characteristically shiny red, newly cleaned and polished. It looked like the same kind of fire engines seen crushed under the World Trade Center Towers two years ago.
Covering the entire length of one side of the engine, Rifle fire district staff pasted all the names, ranks, departments and status of the firefighters and rescue workers who died during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. They weren’t familiar names to locals – “Carlos Lillo, paramedic, FDNY, found” – but it didn’t matter. People still stood and read the lists.
Thursday morning, a couple of kids climbed onto fire engine 935, as kids will do, and sat down, waiting for the flag ceremony to begin in front of them.
It took a total of 20 Boy Scouts and firefighters to unfurl the 28-by-30-foot flag across the station’s parking lot. The flag bearers walked it over to the new 80-foot steel flagpole in front of the station, dwarfing the existing flagpole, which stands at just 35 feet.
As two members of Boy Scout Troop 232 helped firefighters hook up the giant flag to the flagpole lines, people gathered for the ceremony put their hands over the hearts. One man wearing a cowboy hat took it off and held it over his chest.
As the scouts raised the flag using a big crank, vehicles on Railroad Avenue slowed.
A man driving a turquoise-colored van stopped in the road and put his hand over his heart as he watched the flag go up.
Another woman driving by stopped her car, got out and crossed the street and stood with the others gathered, watching the flag climb into the sky.
After saying the Pledge of Allegiance, Boy Scout Brian Kesler said a few words. Kesler, a sophomore at Rifle High School, was instrumental in raising funds to build the flagpole.
He decided to get involved in fund-raising efforts last January and got approval to make raising money for the flagpole his Eagle Scout project. He’s raised $4,000 in cash and in-kind donations.
Julie Lynch, an EMT with the Rifle Fire District and the station’s secretary, also helped put the project together. After she and fellow firefighters collected around $10,000 in T-shirt sales after Sept. 11 and sent the money to the New York City firefighters, the fire district’s board of directors decided to get behind funding the flagpole.
“Our district fire chief Mike Morgan said, `Let’s put this pole up,'” said Lynch.
So far, efforts have raised a total of $15,000. Another $5,000 is needed in either cash, time or materials to finish the project, which includes landscaping the area in front of the fire station and putting in lights around the pole.
“I’d like to see this as a park area,” Lynch said. “I don’t want people to be sad when they come here. I want them to be proud. This is a great thing for Rifle.”
The Garrison flag – which measures 28 by 30 feet – came to the fire station through a Rifle woman’s dedication to her retired firefighter stepfather.
Immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, Rifle native Bobbe Williams remembered that her brother Bill Williams owned an enormous Garrison flag. The flag wasn’t being flown, so she asked Bill if they could donate it to a visible location so people could see it.
Her first choice was to donate it to the Rifle fire station. But because the flag is so enormous, the station’s existing flagpole wasn’t tall enough to accommodate it. So at first, the flag was attached to the side of the Alpine Bank central operations building just off the eastbound Interstate 70 on-ramp. It was also flown at the Rifle fire station during Sept. 11 memorials, attached to one of the engine’s ladders.
Besides honoring the firefighters who died during the terrorist attacks, Bobbe had another reason for wanting the flag displayed at the Rifle station.
Her stepfather, Aspen firefighter Willard Clapper, spent 25 years as a volunteer firefighter, and nearly 15 of those years as Aspen fire chief. Bobbe dedicated the flag to Clapper and donated it to the fire station on his behalf.
“He made such an impact with his life,” Bobbe said. “Because of the kind of person he is, he bonded people together. His friends and family followed him into the Aspen fire department. Four of his sons joined the fire department, too. Those volunteer firefighters saved Aspen because there wasn’t a fire department without them.”
Clapper and his wife, Rifle native Barb Williams Clapper, were elated to hear that the flag was flying over the Rifle fire station Thursday, particularly when they heard details of the flag-raising ceremony.
“That’s outstanding,” said Willard Clapper from their home in California. “I’m so tickled.”
Barb Clapper was just as pleased.
“Bobbe dedicated that flag to her stepdaddy,” she said. “We’re just so happy it’s at the Rifle fire station.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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