Fortner: 'We learned that the human heart is capable of horrendous acts of evil' on 9/11

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

BLOOMFIELD — Firefighters from the newly joined San Juan County and Bloomfield fire departments paused for a brief time to reflect on the first responders who died because of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In a ceremony broadcast over Facebook live, firefighters as well as county and Bloomfield elected leaders reflected on the impacts 9/11 had on the country and spoke about the new partnership between the county and Bloomfield. The county officially took over the operations of Bloomfield Fire Department earlier in the week.

“Post 9/11, America now believes in good and evil,” said County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner. “We learned that the human heart is capable of horrendous acts of evil on that day.”

An American flag is displayed, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, at Bloomfield Fire Department.

He said lives were changed forever, America’s feeling of invincibility and people’s feeling of security was forever changed.

American flags displayed outside the Bloomfield Fire Department Station 1 featured pictures of the 343 firefighters who gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, responding to the attacks.

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“Many of the firefighters, EMTs and police officers probably knew that that would be their final day as they approached that raging inferno, but they went anyway,” said Mayor Cynthia Atencio during the ceremony. “They knew they had a job to do.”

San Juan County Commissioner-elect Terri Fortner, Bloomfield City Manager George Duncan, County Manager Mike Stark and San Juan County Commissioner Jim Crowley listen to speeches, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, during a memorial ceremony at Bloomfield Fire Department.

She said 412 community safety professionals lost their lives, including 343 firefighters, 61 police officers and eight emergency medical technicians. Along with the first responders, more than 2,500 civilians were killed.

“These brave men and women set the groundwork for where our emergency services are today,” Atencio said.

Photos:County Fire Department, volunteers distribute food boxes at Blanco Elementary School

Following the ceremony, County Fire Chief John Mohler said 9/11 forever changed firefighting. Lessons learned from the attacks led to important safety changes, including improvements in personal protective equipment. At the same time, the country saw renewed support for first responders.

A year after the attacks, Bloomfield passed a tax that added paid firefighters to the fire department’s roster. Mohler was one of those paid firefighters, starting his career in 2002. He said if the terrorist attacks had not happened, he likely would not have become a career firefighter.

Flags displayed outside the Bloomfield Fire Department, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, memorialize the firefighters who died responding to the terrorist attacks.

“(Sept. 11) probably means more about service than anything,” he said when asked what the day means to him as a firefighter.

Volunteerism spiked following Sept. 11, 2001, but has declined in recent years. Mohler said the county needs volunteer firefighters. People interested in volunteering can visit any of the county fire stations to learn more, he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at

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