Sixteen years ago Monday, Santa Maria Fire Department's current fire chief received an early-morning phone call from his parents to turn on the news, where he watched the largest terrorist attack on American soil begin to unfold in New York, Washington, D.C. and southwestern Pennsylvania.
In the end, the death toll was in the thousands, and more than the New York skyline was forever altered -- the world was a different place.
On Monday, Santa Maria’s Fire Department commemorated the 16th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, with small, special ceremonies at five of the city’s firehouses.
“Today, we stop to remember (and) take a moment out of our busy lives to reflect on the loss of so many American lives on Sept. 11, 2001," Champion said during the ceremony at Station No. 1 on Cook Street in Santa Maria.
He noted that nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives and that of those 3,000, 343 firefighters and 71 law enforcement officials died.
"For public safety, it is a time to stop and think about that sacrifice that was made trying to save and serve other people,” Champion said.
At about 7:20 a.m. Monday, fire engines at each of the five stations were pulled out in front of the stations.
Then at about 7:30 a.m., fire officials and guests gathered around each of the stations' flagpoles, while horns were sounded on the trucks. The flags at each station were briefly lowered to half-staff for the observance.
“It is so easy to forget what happened as time goes on. Each year that we do this, it helps us focus, (and) it helps us remember those sacrifices,” Champion said.
On Monday, the chief recalled how the Santa Maria community came together in support of the first responders in New York.
“In our community, we raised about $18,000 here in Santa Maria. A few firefighters went to New York in November 2001 and donated the money to fire departments there,” he said.
After Monday’s ceremonies in Santa Maria, guests were invited to tour the stations and learn more from local firefighters.