ELBURN – A row of firefighters surrounded Paul Wdowicki on Wednesday morning as he looked, from across the street, at two flags flying at half-staff, surrounded by the 9/11 memorial garden in his front yard at his Elburn home.
Every year, a large group from the Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District will attend the ceremony, at 405 N. Second St., Elburn. Throughout the year, there are many who help maintain it, including Scouts, and the fire district's Explorer Post.
On Wednesday, as he does every year, Wdowicki welcomed a crowd to his house to observe a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The fire officials were joined by residents, as well as State Rep. Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville.
Fire Marshal Alan Isberg was among those in attendance, and he praised Wdowicki, who is a former volunteer firefighter, for the work he does for the tribute and on the garden.
"He helped fill a gap," Isberg said. He said Wdowicki approached Elburn fire officials years ago, wanting to know if there was anything he could do to help.
"He said, 'I have this garden. Would you like to come out?' " Isberg said. "That was the beginning."
Craig Hansen, an assistant fire chief with the Elburn department, said the garden and the ceremony "embodies the partnership between community and department."
Hatcher said she began talking with Wdowicki after she saw a story in the Kane County Chronicle on last year's event, clipped it out, had it laminated and sent, with a note, to Wdowicki. She said Wdowicki appreciated the gesture so much that he asked her to come to this year's ceremony. She told him she would consider it an honor.
"To me, this kind of ceremony is every bit as important as one that gathers hundreds," Hatcher said.
The ceremony itself was brief and solemn. Monica Del Medico, an EMT with the Elburn department, read the "Fireman's Prayer," and two flags were raised to half-staff – a traditional American flag and one that commemorates a 9/11 memorial. Wdowicki spoke, thanking those who attended and those who help maintain the garden. Afterward, Wdowicki invited those who attended to stay for doughnuts.
Isberg said those in the firefighter community always will honor those who rushed to respond after terrorists flew airplanes into the towers of the World Trade Center, and he made reference to the 343 firefighters who died at the World Trade Center.
"The belief is that the American firefighter will die for you, now matter what," Isberg said. "We receive respect not only for what we do, but for what the 343 did."