Someone set fire to and partially burned a display of 343 American flags set out at a local fire station on Sunday, Sept. 11, to honor the 343 firefighters who died in responding to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.
Firefighters discovered the arson at the East Palo Alto fire station after returning from a call, according to Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District in a statement.
The damage was minor -- six flags burned and several others were damaged, all of which were replaced, the chief said. East Palo Alto police are investigating in cooperation with the district fire marshal. Investigators are in possession of a video and have "a suspect of interest," the chief said.
Sunday was the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack. Setting out flags to honor the fallen New York City firefighters has been a tradition in the Menlo Park fire distrct that started with one fire station and grew to include all seven.
Originally, the flags lined the borders of lawns at the stations, but with the lawns replaced with drought-resistant landscaping and/or artificial grass, firefighters transferred the flags to trays crafted by the firefighters themselves "to keep this important tradition alive," the chief said.
Firefighters from the Menlo Park district traveled to New York and participated in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the chief said. Two local veterans of 9/11 -- Captain John Wurdinger and Battalion Chief Ben Marra -- responded to the scene on Sunday after learning of the incident, the chief said.
Firefighters around the country remember the attacks, and the loss of 343 firefighters in a single day "isn't lost on any of them," the chief said. "Honor, Duty, Service, Compassion and Sacrifice are part of a code that all firefighters believe in. Running towards an emergency is part of a culture that puts service before self and the bonds of the fire family run deep with a common respect for the 'job,' although most would admit it's a calling, and spend a career perfecting their craft."
"I don't get angry easily," Chief Schapelhouman said, "but knowing that someone tried to burn not only our flag memorial, but a specific tribute to 343 heroic fallen brothers, some of whom I personally knew, worked with and helped to look for at Ground Zero, and that this occurred here on the actual 15th anniversary date of this event, it's a despicable act of disrespect and cowardice, its truly hard for me to comprehend, accept and I need to stop myself there because I don't want you to know what I'm thinking right now."
The chief commended the residents of East Palo Alto, who have "always treated (firefighters) with respect because true to our code of conduct and values that are exactly the same today, we are always there to help anyone in need, that has never changed and won't change because of one person's stupidity and disrespect."