Police, Firefighters Discover Newfound Respect Following Attacks

IN MEMORY

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The shock waves from the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. still reverberate. The Mogollon Rim does not shield Payson and its neighboring communities from their effect.

That is not necessarily a bad thing.

Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the residents of Payson have an understanding that police officers lay down their lives for their fellow man.

"We understand too, probably the sense of Sept. 11 and what it meant will probably wane, but the officers appreciate it and the support," Gartner said.

There was also a small drop in criminal activity immediately after the attacks.

He said most officers don't get into police work for the money or the glory.

"It is a brutal, ugly job a lot of the time. But they have a chance to make a difference in people's lives," he said.

Gartner said one of the most lasting effects of the Sept. 11 attacks are all the new challenges law enforcement is facing due to heightened awareness of terrorism.

"It is not a war like we have fought before," he said.

When he first entered police service in 1973, there was training to deal with riots, tear gas training and training to evade sniper attacks. He said terrorism training for police did not start until the 1980s to deal with hostage situations and hijacks.

"This is different. There are a lot of hate-filled people out there and there is no reasoning with them. They don't mind dying for their cause," Gartner said.

Another change is the amount of information with which police departments must now deal. Before Sept. 11, the police department would get an intelligence briefing once a month, now they come every day, sometimes arriving many times a day, he said.

Payson police officers are being trained to deal with terrorism too. They are issued bulletins with information on what to look for regarding potential terrorists and terrorist threats.

"Every officer now has a better understanding that the U.S. can be and probably will be under attack. Terrorists are waiting for their orders. We also have to remember we have a constitution and we must work within it," he said. "When addressing terrorism, we cannot reduce our own freedoms. There's a balance and the officer in the field is that balance. In less than a five minute timeframe, he has to make a judgment based on the law, protection and individual rights. Most of these guys have only a high school education and some college, and they are making fairly important judgments on a routine basis."

To help make these judgments, the officers have regular civil rights training as part of the search and seizure exercises in which they participate.

Firefighters

Most youngsters, at some point during their childhood, have thought about becoming firefighters. They get to ride in those big trucks with the loud sirens and they help people.

Since Sept. 11, firefighters and other emergency services personnel have been seen more than ever as heros.

Chief John Ross of the Payson Fire Department said the people of Payson have always been very supportive of his people, and since Sept. 11 that support has mushroomed.

He said everyone was initially in complete shock and disbelief over the magnitude of the events.

"Then, as the news accounts came forward about the gravity of it all and there were 300 firefighters missing and the stories of heroism, it had a big impact on the people," he said. "As a result, they started calling to give their thanks and support, sending cards, bringing in cookies and flowers. Our personnel were flattered and very supportive. We all lost brothers and sisters in that attack. So, it was a comfort as well."

He said it is his impression, and that of the firefighters responding to calls, that the support is still there.

"Payson understands the fire department in greater detail, and the police department as well. The residents know we'll lay our lives down, do what's best for the community and keep it safe," Ross said.

He said people are still waving at the department's vehicles on the road and more people are attending the tours of the fire department.

"We are told 'thank you' much more. The people have always been appreciative, but Sept. 11 kicked it up to another level and it still exists today," Ross said.

Interest in joining the department has increased, and there's also been more interest in the college's fire science classes.

"Students in kindergarten all the way to adults have more knowledge of what is done by firefighters and how to become one," Ross said.

Yet another repercussion: The anthrax scares that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks accelerated the department's existing plans with Gila County Emergency Services and the Arizona Department of Emergency Management, to create a Hazardous Materials Team for Gila County.

Ross said when the scare was at its height, the calls coming to the department about suspicious, white powdered substances increased dramatically. He said they responded to about 30 calls.

To make the necessary responses, the department had to make some quick purchases of equipment and provide special training to keep the firefighters safe. Ross said the fire and police departments worked together to develop response protocols for the anthrax scares.

Prior to Sept. 11, the department had applied for and is getting a grant to establish a Gila County Hazardous Materials team, he said.

During the scares there was not a Hazmat Team anywhere in the west.

The grant's initial award is for planning, more funds will be used to purchase equipment and supplies, with the last of the money going toward training, buying the special vehicles needed for hazardous materials calls and more equipment. Ross said the plan is to have a dual team, one in the Globe area and one in Payson.

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