DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- On Friday, hundreds of first responders from the Triangle were recognized for their hard work at the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce 5th Annual First Responders Appreciation Breakfast held at the Durham Convention Center.
ABC11 is a proud media sponsor of the event that honors those who serve the community.
"They wake up every morning prepared to help a voice in need, so for us to pay them that appreciation matters," said Geoff Durham, president and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce who hosts the breakfast.
"The reality is many of us go through our days and don't anticipate anything going wrong we kind of live our days as they are, until they're not and then that's when these folks come calling," Durham said.
Someone who knows the value of first responders is 9/11 survivor and Raleigh resident John Cerqueira. Cerqueira was the keynote speaker at the breakfast, which is always held around the anniversary of 9/11 as a reminder to never forget the sacrifice first responders make daily.
"The most palpable memory relative to first responders was walking down the stairwell and we started to pass the first firefighters we encountered going up," Cerqueira recalled. "I remember their faces and professionalism knowing they were going up to certain death and they kept going."
Cerqueira had recently graduated from N.C. State and had been working on the 81st floor of Tower 1 for only four months when the attack happened. He and his boss helped carry a wheelchair-bound woman down nearly 70 flights of stairs.
"I'm proud that given the opportunity to help someone or not help someone I did," Cerqueira said. "But, the reality is neither Mike nor I knew the gravity of the situation and severity and what was waiting for us outside and we were escaping out of self-preservation. The first responders, on the other hand, knew exactly what was going on they've chosen to pursue this profession and they went into the building despite self-preservation."
Cerqueira recalled escaping Tower 1 on 9/11 a defining moment of his life but said the real heroes are the first responders.
First responders from 15 divisions serving the City of Durham, Durham County, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, Durham Technical Community College, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, and National Guard were honored at the appreciation breakfast.