September 11 Tribute to Service

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Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s 9/11 Tribute to Service

By Katie Fagan, AmeriCorps Member, Black Warrior Riverkeeper

Jim Colby is as a volunteer firefighter and a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Board of Directors, among several other volunteer service positions.

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. September 11 is a day with deep meaning to so many people including Waterkeepers, whose movement was launched near New York City by military veterans in 1966. In partnership with AmeriCorps, Black Warrior Riverkeeper is honoring 9/11 and its impact on first responders and the military by publishing a new interview with Jim Colby about his work as a volunteer firefighter and member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Jim grew up on the water. While originally enjoying the Chesapeake Bay, he has been on the Black Warrior River for over 60 years and donated 10 acres of his Black Warrior River riverfront property to the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority to build the Fosters boat landing. In addition to spending time on the water, Jim has dedicated his life to being a first responder. He has served as the Director/Paramedic for the volunteer ambulance service in Brookwood, AL, a volunteer Paramedic for Tuscaloosa County Civil Defense, an Emergency Medical Responder and Certified Firefighter for Fosters Ralph Fire Department, and he has been a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary since 1992. His commitment to serving his community and his work with Black Warrior Riverkeeper as a volunteer leader on our Board of Directors made him a wonderful person to interview for this unique day.

As Jim mentioned during the interview, “The United States has always been a nation of community volunteers. My parents instilled in me the sense of giving back to my community from an early age by setting examples through their own actions. Their selflessness taught me that there is no greater way to give meaning and purpose to my own life than by sharing my time and knowledge to help others.”

While there is much to despair about when remembering 9/11, it is also a time where first responders and everyday people came together to help their community. For this reason, the families of those lost in the attacks established a national tradition that engages the country in volunteer service. Through service we can all pay tribute to their loved ones and those who volunteered to serve our country in response to the tragedy. Since 2001, millions of Americans have come together to honor 9/11 and commemorate the tragedy through volunteer service. In keeping with that spirit, Black Warrior Riverkeeper is now working with AmeriCorps to promote service all year round. We hope the following interview with Jim will inspire many different folks of to become more involved in various forms of service.

What emotions and thoughts were going through your mind as you learned about the attacks, and what does September 11 mean to you now?

I have vivid memories of that terrible morning. I had visited the World Trade Center towers several times over the years, enjoying the view from the roof, as well as enjoying a most memorable supper at the world-famous “Windows On The World Restaurant”, and I was actually planning to visit again just a couple of weeks after that day occurred. I had also previously taken a couple of public tours of the Pentagon which always impressed me with its importance as the headquarters of our nation’s military command and for its impressive architecture. So as I watched the events on live TV throughout that morning I felt an immense loss in my heart, for myself, knowing that I’d never be able to experience each of these two places again as I had in the past and that it would probably change life as we knew it for our nation.

What impact did September 11 have on your life and the work you do today?

The impact on my life was that I was filled with resolve to not let the terrorists win. Little did I understand at the time was the innocence of myself and our nation in how it would affect our everyday lives and freedom to travel in our own country and around the world. Since I’d always been a volunteer long before 9/11 as an Emergency Responder (Red Cross, and Civil Defense, Paramedic, United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, Volunteer Firefighter), Meals On Wheels driver, and general community volunteer, there really wasn’t anything that changed for me in that regard since.

What are your favorite parts of serving as a firefighter and a member of the Coast Guard auxiliary?

The sense of self-worth that doing volunteer work provides. Being an Emergency Medical Responder, Volunteer Firefighter, or mission qualified in the Coast Guard Auxiliary means that I must pass standard qualifications and training that are the same as full-time paid members in paid service. Meeting those qualifications provides immense personal satisfaction in the knowledge that I have skills that require many hours of dedication to acquire that will help my neighbors. I retired at the end of 2018 from my 18-year career as a Member Service Representative with the AAA Automobile Club, so volunteering gives me plenty of opportunities to perform valuable services to my community.

Why did you decide to serve as a volunteer leader on Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Board of Directors? 

My home beside the Black Warrior River in Fosters Alabama for over 60 years has imbued in me an abiding love of our beautiful Black Warrior River. I’ve always been aware of conditions on the river’s water, always wanted to learn more about the ecology of the river, and love the beauty of our river. I’d initially been made aware of Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWR) through the environmental programs of my church, and from visits by Black Warrior Riverkeeper staff members to our Sunday services as guest speakers. I began following Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Facebook page and commenting on various posts. Eventually, I became a monthly giving donor.

 A couple of years ago I started a Facebook group named “Black Warrior River Watch and History” so that I could learn more about the river and its history and share it with the larger world through the contributions of group members. I then began sharing posts from BWR to help spread news of their work to protect our watershed with the Facebook universe and it didn’t take long for [their executive director] Charles Scribner to notice my passion for everything to do with our entire watershed. Eventually, Charles extended an invitation to me to join the BWR “Advisory Council” where I became more involved with providing information to BWR about questions regarding the watershed. Then a few months later, Charles inquired if I would be interested in serving on the BWR Board of Directors, to which I gladly accepted. It has since become another rewarding volunteer role that I serve in my community.

Jim Colby loves volunteering at the Fosters Ralph Fire Department as an Emergency Medical Responder and Certified Firefighter.

For more information about the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, Division 8 – Eighth District, Coastal Region, visit

To learn more about serving your community through Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s volunteer projects, visit

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