STATE COLLEGE — Of all the Sept. 11 remembrances Tuesday, one at Alpha Fire Company took the cake.
Five mothers and eight children from a Ferguson Township neighborhood delivered a giant sheet cake decorated as an American flag, along with plates of cookies and brownies, to the firefighters. Earlier, they dropped off goodies at the township police station.
Their sweet thank you started 10 years ago on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks when terrorists hijacked airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville.
Since then, the group has thanked first responders in memory of the New York firefighters and police who died trying to save lives.
“Neighbors have come and gone, but the spirit has stayed,” said Marisa Ferger, who brought two children.
That most of Tuesday’s pint-sized cake deliverers were born after the 9/11 attacks mattered little.
“At least they’re learning the spirit of gratitude, and I think that’s what’s important about this,” Ferger said.
In exchange for the treats, the firefighters gave red plastic replicas of their hats to the children and allowed them to climb into the cab of a ladder engine.
Then they posed for photos in front of the engine with their admirers and answered questions.
“How many TVs do you have here?” one boy said.
Firefighter Ryan MacNichol, who lives at the station, thought for a few seconds, then said four. When the boy said his house only had one, MacNichol noted the company has about 100 firefighters.
“There are a lot more of us in this house than you have in yours,” he said.
Firefighters said they appreciated the gifts — and the happiness on display.
“It really makes us feel good,” Dan Thompson said.
The moment brought MacNichol back to his own childhood, when he visited a family friend, a professional firefighter, at his Philadelphia station. Those trips helped inspire him to become a firefighter himself.
Tuesday, he wondered if any of the red-hatted dynamos running around the garage bay might follow the same path.
“I know they’re young, but they’ll remember this forever,” he said.
Chris Carrero said he was just a kid himself when 9/11 happened. He remembers the day clearly but views it differently now that he’s a firefighter. He understands better the courage of New York responders who rushed into the burning Twin Towers before they collapsed — and the sacrifice those who didn’t get out in time made.
He recalled the impression a photo of a Bronx engine rushing across the Brooklyn Bridge, with the burning towers in the background, left on him.
“It’s a very moving picture,” he said.
Nolan Markowski, 7, wasn’t thinking of tragedy in the station. He called the visit “fun” and “cool.”
He left wiser about firefighters in one respect.
“The thing I learned is the (fire engines’) sirens are so loud, they wear headsets,” he said.
But Nolan already knew why a red, white and blue cake sat on a table in the station’s kitchen.
“Because they help us,” he said. “They help us every day.”
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews