WASHINGTON — Of course it happened.

Washington's annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony, which remembers the victims of the terrorist attacks on the country Sept. 11, 2001 and honors and thanks area first responders, was interrupted briefly Sunday by a call for help.

Three paramedics from the Washington Fire Department left their seats, raced to an ambulance, and responded to the call from a dispatcher.

"This isn't the first time this has happened during this ceremony. This is what first responders do," said Washington Mayor Gary Manier, who was at the podium when the call went out.

Manier asked for a moment of silence for the health and safety of everyone involved in the call, and the ceremony resumed.

This was the 18th year for the ceremony.

Hundreds who gathered at the Veterans Memorial in Washington Park under cloudy skies on a cool evening listened to speeches, watched a dove release -- the birds headed to their home in Manito -- and heard 18 bell strikes on a fire truck as fire trucks and ambulances flashed their emergency lights.

Each bell represented one year since the 9/11 attacks.

There was a short walk through the park before the ceremony, led by Washington Community High School cheerleaders and the high school marching band's drum line.

Athletes from several Washington high school sports teams and their coaches made up most of the walkers.

Back in 2002, the high school cheerleading squad led a 9/11 memorial walk through a city subdivision. That was the humble beginning for what's now an annual get-together in Washington Park on the Sunday before Sept. 11.

This year's guest speakers were Washington business owner Joe Russell and State Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria.

"We may not live in Mayberry, but we have a great quality of life in Washington and we're kept safe by our police, firefighters and EMTs," Russell said.

Tom Berlett, a member of the ceremony's organizing committee and a U.S. Air Force veteran, asked the audience to stand up and scream for the first responders in attendance from the Washington Police Department, Washington Fire Department and Northern Tazewell Fire Department.

The crowd obliged.

Berlett also implored audience members to not forget what happened on 9/11, when 3,410 people including 414 first responders lost their lives.

"We can't ignore it. We have to remember it. It says something about our city that we've made a nearly 20-year commitment to remember everyone who lost their lives that day, including first responders," he said.

Washington Police Chief Mike McCoy, Washington Fire Chief Roger Traver and Northern Tazewell Fire Chief Mike Vissering also were among the speakers.

Among the guests at the ceremony were Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, Peoria Police Chief Loren Marion, and area fire chiefs.

The Washington Police Department Honor Guard posted the colors and did a rifle salute, the Rev. Dave Jane from Connect Church in Washington gave opening and closing prayers, "Taps" was played, and the high school's chamber choir sang the national anthem, "America the Beautiful" and "Amazing Grace."

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.