In the early hours of Sept. 11, 2001, only a few greeted the dawn with the knowledge it would become a new day that would live in infamy. By the setting of the sun, the whole world knew … and was shaken.

So much happened in a short amount of time. From 8:46 a.m. Eastern Standard Time to 10:03 a.m., four interrupted flights came to tragic ends — two in the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and one in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The death toll numbered 2,977. Four minutes before the end of the last flight, the south tower of the World Trade Center came crashing down. A half hour later, the north tower followed.

It only took 102 minutes between the first attack and the collapse of the second WTC tower. The reverberations continue to be felt today.

America has been attacked before. The British burned Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812, including the U.S. Capitol building and White House. Hawaii was bombed in the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Differences in technology, however, meant word of the assaults moved slowly. In earlier days, one had to be in eyeshot, and under the shadow of death, to see the devastation. On the fateful Tuesday morning, people around the world watched the direct, live view of the country that didn’t yet know it was under attack. In some cases, as local lines of communication became entangled, those on an opposite coast knew more than those covered in the dust left by crumpled buildings.

At the end of the day, the daily danger faced by emergency responders like police officers, firefighters, and paramedics wasn’t really any different. They already knew their lives could be ended by a buckling wall, asphyxiating smoke, thoughtless violence, mere bad luck — the risks were unchanged but now more apparent. Americans realized we all face unknown dangers.

The perils remain today, and we’re thankful to those who wake up each day and face them. Emergency workers and their families take on extra burdens so the public doesn’t have to bear them. They’re committed to enforcing the laws, keeping people safe, making them better, and hopefully doing such a good job that people don’t notice.

Even when the stakes are low, they are usually dealing with people who are having bad days. Raise the ante, and they may be guiding people through the worst days of their lives. It’s inspiring to see them persevere.

We should make sure they don’t feel unappreciated. Showing more support can be as simple as smiling and waving when they pass by. Also consider the example of Tyler Carach, the 10-year-old who decided he was going to thank every cop in the nation by buying them a doughnut. His delivery of about 40 boxes of doughnuts to the Park County Law Enforcement Center in Cody is part of his 38-state tour where he has already given away more than 70,000 doughnuts.

Forming personal connections with first responders is another option. Have casual conversations with them, attend open houses, ask questions and see how you can get involved. And if you find yourself in a jam and encounter them under more serious circumstances, try to be more understanding. They know the tenor of the interaction contributes to the tone for the relationship with the community. Being cognizant of this and trying to be equally cooperative goes a long way toward harmony.

Financial contributions are also appreciated. The Rocket-Miner hosted A Salute to First Responders last weekend, where a portion of the proceeds from the raffles and dinner went to the Sweetwater County First Responder’s Fund for scholarships and first responders who serve and sacrifice in the line of duty.

The inaugural event took place Sept. 8, just before the 17th anniversary of Sept. 11. The date wasn’t coincidental. As noted by Rock Springs Fire Chief Jim Wamsley at the Patriot Day ceremony on Tuesday, emergency workers made up a remarkable portion of those lost in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Of the 2,977 victims, more than 10 percent were first responders, including 343 members of the New York City Fire Department, 37 officers with the Port Authority Police and 23 NYC police officers. Most weren’t caught unaware. They saw danger and ran toward it because that’s where people needed help.

We’re blessed by similarly inclined people in Sweetwater County. In going through the nominations for Community Hero of the Year, which was won by Whitney Watterson of Castle Rock Ambulance, we found multiple examples of taking extra steps to help people. Whether it was singing songs, making personal follow-up inquiries or working gracefully under pressure, it’s obvious they have a true calling to help people.

With heroes like these, we can take comfort that our community is in good hands.

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