By Jane Jerrard
Published Tuesday, September 1, 2009
| From the September 2009 Issue of FireRescue
In the weeks following Sept. 11, California firefighter Brett Hill was moved to create a lasting tribute to the responders who died at Ground Zero: A commemorative shoulder patch to be worn on uniforms of firefighters—and others, as it turned out—was introduced in early 2002. Now, with the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 only 2 years away, Hill has designed two new commemorative patches, and is making plans for a huge anniversary event.
In the Beginning
Hill was a firefighter/paramedic with the South Pasadena (Calif.) Fire Department when he founded the 9-11 Patch Project. When departments around the country raced to Ground Zero to help with recovery efforts in the days following the attacks, his department elected to keep all personnel in California in order to cover for the many short-staffed West Coast departments.
“Being on the West Coast, I felt a little removed,” Hill recalls. “I wanted to be involved [in recovery efforts].” In October of that year, Hill ran into a fellow firefighter who had worked at Ground Zero for 2 weeks. Hill says, “He told me that when he was leaving, he was saying goodbye to the FDNY guys he’d been working with, one of them gripped his hand, looked him in the eye and said, ‘Please don’t forget us.’ Well, that sent a chill up my spine, and I thought, I know what I can do. Why not try to create some unity by creating a tribute patch?”
Hill set to work immediately, designing a patch that showed the silhouette of a firefighter holding an axe, with the skyline of New York City in the background and the words “We will never forget” underneath. The 5-year anniversary version includes silhouettes of a police officer and a soldier.
A Powerful Response
Hill moved fast on his idea. In early 2002, using his own resources and the help of his family and friends, he mailed a flier to every fire department in the United States to promote the patch. The first orders came in within a month—at first, about five per day and then up to 25 or 50 per day. “After that mailing, at least 1,000 departments decided to get this patch and put it on their uniforms,” Hill says. “By June, it was up to 2,000.”
That first run of patches raised enough money so that on the first anniversary of Sept. 11, Hill and the 9-11 Patch Project presented a check for $15,000 to the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows and Children’s Fund of the FDNY. Since then, proceeds from sales of the patches and decals have been distributed to that fund, as well as to the San Antonio Burned Out Survivors Fund, the Esperanza Firefighters Fund, the Terry Farrell Firefighters Fund and the World-Memorial.
By now, the 9-11 Tribute Patch has been purchased and worn by personnel from more than 5,000 fire departments, as well as police officers and soldiers around the country—and beyond. “I’ve gotten photos of guys wearing the patch, including a young pilot flying a mission in Iraq, as well as a fire department in England,” Hill says.
Sept. 11, 2011
With the 10th anniversary coming up in 2011, Hill has released two special anniversary patches. “I’m hoping to revive the patch project for the anniversary,” he says. “I want to get 9-11 back in the minds of everyone again. The patch will not only remind them of that day, but of what we face every day.”
Hill’s plans for the anniversary reach far beyond further sales of the new Tribute Patch. “I’d like to host a very large West Coast event,” he says. “I hope to work with the Los Angeles Fire Department and get some large sponsorships, because I want the ceremony to be free to everyone.” Hill envisions “Nine 11- Twenty 11” as a day to honor firefighters, EMS, police and the military. “I want to have everyone there together,” he says, and he’s thinking big: along the lines of 50,000 or even 100,000 people. “Two years is barely enough time to get something like this together,” he admits.
The 10-year Tribute Patch is available in two versions, which can be purchased for $3.95 apiece. Proceeds will be divided among charitable organizations and costs for the West Coast commemoration. You can order patches (and window decals) online at www.9-11patchproject.org.
Comment Now: Post Your Thoughts & Comments on This Story