A few minutes into the Firefighter Memorial ceremony Saturday evening at Tosafest, firefighters' radios sounded, and most of the Fire Department members present ran, jumped into their trucks and drove away, sirens screaming.
It was a vivid demonstration of the purpose of the ceremony — "to take a moment and reflect on how important the people are in our lives (whose) profession is to keep us safe," Mayor Kathy Ehley said in her speech from the stage.
The ceremony marked the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, a few days early, and honored the public safety officers who served and died on that day, and since that day, including members of the armed forces.
"They really didn't have a choice," said Police Chief Barry Weber, who gave the central speech, referring to the firefighters of 9/11, "because they took an oath to do that type of work. When you begin a public safety career where you swear to do such a job, you are going into the disaster, not away from it.
"Oh, yes, 9/11 was a day of tragedy, but it was also a day that many people in America learned firsthand about heroes. Many of them survived, but many of them did not."
Losing one of their own
Weber also spoke about the loss of Wauwatosa police officer Jennifer Sebena.
"It was a really bad day in Wauwatosa this last Dec. 24, 2012, Christmas Eve. We lost one of our own. Jennifer Sebena, 29 years old, had been killed in the early morning hours. It was a stone-cold execution," he said.
Her husband, Benjamin Sebena, was arrested and is now serving a life sentence, the chief said.
"It was Christmas Eve. Like 9/11, there isn't any member of our organization who will ever forget that day, or what they were doing when they learned what had happened.
"Whenever a police officer or a firefighter dies every American citizen shares the loss. While you may not know the family, you know that that person died because they were serving," Weber said. "A person who dies while serving others dies an honorable death, they die a hero's death. But the sad fact is that they are still gone."
What she was like
Weber said there was more to Jennifer Sebena than most people know.
"The press showed many pictures of Jennifer during that time. They don't tell the whole story. You see, Jennifer was a very kind, warm and friendly person who mentored teenagers at her church. She had mapped out a life plan to serve others. She was a wonderful young woman with a bright future, and as we know, it changed in a couple of seconds."
Weber said he had hired Sebena several years before, and said that she would be embarrassed by the attention.
Successful in her life
"Many of us desire to be successful in our lives. Although her life was much too short, she was successful," Weber said.
Clearing out her locker, he said, "we found the Book of Psalms, bookmarked at Psalm 16. The first verse of that reads, 'Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.' Verse 11 of that same Psalm states, 'You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' Jennifer got to celebrate Christmas in ways we have not yet seen."
Weber said in reviewing procedures, and discussing what had happened, the department determined there was nothing it could have done to prevent the tragedy, "and I'm angry about that, because our job is to protect people, and we could not even protect one of our own."
Public servants under fire
Weber referred obliquely to Act 10 and the surrounding debate over public employee unions.
"You might remember a couple of years ago, public employees were the subject of hostility and ill-will from our citizens in Wisconsin. Public employees were being blamed for the budget crisis in the state. Put the blame where it belongs, not on the backs of the people who are providing the service," he said.
But Weber said Tosa police officers have always felt supported by the local community.
Half the donated money collected at the event will help establish a scholarship fund in Sebena's name. The other half will go to other charities.
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