New Zealand remembers September 11

The NZ Fire Service performing a moving Haka at the 9/11 commemoration service in Auckland. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.

By Public Affairs staff, U.S. Consulate Auckland.

New Zealand remembers September 11 with a viral haka, an Auckland Sky Tower stair climb, a visit from the New York Fire Department and more…

In the week leading up to the Auckland commemoration of the 9/11 attacks, the United States Embassy and Consulate were pleased to host three visiting FDNY Chiefs, Howard Hill, John Buckheit, and David Morkal.  The US mission worked with Auckland Airport’s Emergency Service Deputy Crew Chief Tony Scott QSM and other interested stakeholders to ensure a busy schedule for these remarkable guests.

Consul General Katelyn Choe welcomed the gentlemen on their arrival in Auckland, hearing first-hand about their extraordinary careers and life experiences.  She thanked them for not only their work on 9/11, but for all their work throughout their professional lives, and for coming to New Zealand to share their experiences with Kiwis.

Throughout the week, the Chiefs met with Emergency Management, New Zealand Firefighters and First Responders, and spoke with several school groups.  The first of these schools was Mt Albert Grammar School, at which they spoke about leadership, their experiences on 9/11, and fielded questions from students.

A few days later, the Chiefs were invited by Auckland Airport to speak with student leaders from five South Auckland schools; Onehunga High, Southern Cross Campus, Aorere College, Al-Madinah, and Otahuhu College.  Auckland Airport runs a number of leadership programs and the Ara Jobs and Skills Hub for the South Auckland community, where it is based, to further strengthen its relationship with the community.

Students were selected for participation by their respective schools as recognised leaders in their communities or as young people with excellent leadership potential.  About 30 young adults from diverse backgrounds spent the morning hearing about the nature and importance of leadership.  They then broke into smaller groups to engage with the visitors more directly in very lively Q&A sessions.

The final school visit was to Pakuranga College, where approximately 70 Year 9 and 10 students listened to presentations that addressed valuable life skills like overcoming fear, making difficult choices, and managing bad situations.  None of the students in attendance had been born at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Their understanding was based largely on the lessons of their history teachers, including Mr Martyn Davison, head of history and classical studies at Pakuranga College, who helped arrange this visit.

On Wednesday, the 18th anniversary of the September 11th World Trade Center attacks, Ambassador Scott Brown and Consul General Choe attended the Auckland 9/11 Memorial and Stair Climb at the Sky Tower.

Over 200 firefighters from around New Zealand participated in the event which began with speeches from Ambassador Brown and Auckland Assistant Area Commander Stephen Sosich. The names of the 65 New Zealanders who have died in the line of duty since records began in 1872 were then read out.  Chiefs Hill, Buckheit, and Morkal, then took turns reciting the names of the 343 firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11. This was followed by a prayer from Deputy Chief Fire Officer Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland, and a Haka.

Every year since 2009, the Auckland 9/11 Memorial and Stair Climb has been organised by Tony Scott.  Recognising the camaraderie shared by firefighters all over the world, Mr Scott conceived of the commemoration following the 2009 cool store fire in Tamaheree, Hamilton, in which several New Zealand firefighters lost their lives.  It has grown with each passing year and has been based at the Sky Tower since 2015.

Participants, wearing full firefighting gear, carry the name of a first responder who died in the line of duty on 9/11.  In addition, photos of the 343 firefighters who died line the walls of the staircase up the tower. Many participants made multiple climbs both up and down the tower.

Consul General Katelyn Choe, who participated in the climb for the first time, described it as “a moving tribute to those who gave their lives for others.  It was an excellent personal challenge and a fitting way to remember those heroic individuals.”

While firefighters undertook the climb, Ambassador Brown spoke to media about the values New Zealand and the United States share.  He spoke of the joint sacrifice New Zealanders and Americans have made side by side throughout history. “It is fantastic that firefighters in our two countries come together in kotahitanga‬, a spirit of unity and togetherness.  On behalf of the people of the United States, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The event was livestreamed on YouTube and elements of it, including the haka, appeared in several New Zealand media outlets as well American outlets including ABC News, CNN, Daily News, FOX, NBC 7 News, the New York Post, and USA Today.