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February 1, 2002
Vol. 59
No. 5

Voices: The Students / Dear Firefighters

Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, I received an emotional e-mail from a friend in New York City, Firefighter Christopher Murray of Engine Company 205 and Ladder Company 118 in Brooklyn, who had worked at “ground zero” on that fateful day. His description of the last run of Ladder Company 118 with six doomed firefighters on board, bound for the inferno at the World Trade Center, was heartbreaking.
The events of September 11 also deeply affected the middle school students at Chabad Hebrew Academy in San Diego, California, just as they did children across the United States and the world. As I visited their classrooms, I noticed that the students had begun collecting articles and photographs of the events of that day. The students' compassion moved me, and I decided to share Firefighter Murray's e-mail with them. They listened attentively.
English Language Arts teacher Debbie Smith encouraged the students to reflect on their feelings and express their thoughts in letters to Engine Company 205 and Ladder Company 118. Over the next several days, students threw themselves into their compositions.
The combined efforts of the students and their teacher produced letters and illustrations that were both compassionate and inspiring. We sent their portfolios to Firefighter Murray and his colleagues, who put them on display at their firehouse. Following are a few of the letters sent by the students to the firefighters of Engine Company 205 and Ladder Company 118.

Sharing in Your Sorrow

All I could say is Thank You. It is hard to say thank you to firefighters who risked their lives for others and for their country—America. They should have a word like “A THOUSAND THANKS”—I would for sure use that word.
I am saying thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am sorry to hear of the people you have known that died and know how hard it must be now. But remember all of America is sharing in your sorrow—which means me.
How can I end this letter to one of the greatest heroes in America? With a Thank You!
—Chaya Smoller, Grade 7, age 12

The First and Brightest Star

You are like a twinkling star in the sky, the very first one out. Always you are helping people and you help fight fires. The star in the dark sky helps lighten it up so you can see. You help make people happy. You help save lives.
—Hershel Shaw, Grade 8, age 13

In Hope of Finding but One

I would really like you to know our appreciation for what you have done for our country. You have affected everyone, even the ones that are 3,000 miles away. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting your life in danger for others who have done nothing for you and who you don't even know. How you brought up enough courage to go to the “Ground Zero” building and search for hours in the heat and smoke in hope of finding but one live body, I can't imagine. Everyone is feeling so much sorrow and heartbreak around the world at this time. The only way that I can truly express my gratitude is to thank you for everything you've done for the country, the people, and me!
—Shawna Dolinka, Grade 7, age 12

The Essence of Courage

“Thank you” doesn't give justice to the incredible acts of bravery you performed. Two simple words, thank you, do not have enough emotion to describe how grateful we, as the American nation, are to you for putting your own lives aside and going into the rubble, searching for any survivor, any tiny clue to the atrocities that took place on that infamous day.
I have read how firefighters were walking up the stairs as businesspeople were running down the stairs, in a rush to get out of the falling buildings. And yet, the firefighters valiantly went to help others, knowing clearly that their time on earth was limited.
No one can deny that this is the essence of courage. To go and stare death in the face, yet go in and help those who need it, while your own life is calmly ticking away.
And to those firefighters who were helping, and got out healthy and whole, I want you to know, that every fiber of my being yells thank you. You have the mental pictures of the unthinkable terror that took place. And all we can do is say a simple “thanks.”
—Devorah Smoller, Grade 8, age 13
<POEM><TITLE>Duty</TITLE><POEMLINE>The fire bell rang and he ran for his gear</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>There was no time to think, or feel any kind of fear</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>A hijacked plane had hit one of the Twin Towers and caused a fire</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>Firefighters were to put it out, even when they started to tire</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>He was one of the first ones at the scene</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>Running into the smoky North Tower, which stood on shaky beams</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>He knew that there was a risk of collapse, and he had to get everyone out</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>As he ran up the stairwell, he heard a shout</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>“Don't you know it's liable to collapse with you buried underneath if you go any further?”</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>He turned slowly and deliberately facing the speaker, and spoke three simple words:</POEMLINE><POEMLINE>“It's my duty.”</POEMLINE><ATTRIB>—Chana Grifkin, Grade 8, age 13</ATTRIB></POEM>
Note: Student work used with permission.

David Gonzalez has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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