Eighteen years after nearly 3,000 people were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Santa Maria firefighters on Wednesday honored the victims with ceremonies at each of the city’s fire stations.
The ceremonies commemorated the anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack against the United States, which altered what had been an iconic part of the New York City skyline, extensively damaged the Pentagon and claimed the lives of 2,977 people. Of those killed, over 400 were first responders.
At 7:20 a.m., fire engines at each of the city’s firehouses were pulled out in front of the stations.
Ten minutes later, fire officials and guests gathered around each of the stations' flagpoles for a moment of silence while three sets of five horn blasts were sounded on the trucks.
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Flags at each station were lowered to half-staff, where they remained until 7:30 p.m.
At Fire Station 5, located off Donovan Road, Capt. Seth Wells thanked the approximately 15 guests for attending.
“It’s important that we remember this nation’s history and what we’ve been through,” he said. “That day over 2,900 people were lost — 343 were firefighters, 71 were law enforcement officers.”
Wells noted many 9/11 first responders later went on to die from cancer tied to their work clearing the rubble at Ground Zero, which continued to burn for weeks after the Twin Towers collapsed.
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The anniversary of 9/11 is a particularly tough day for firefighters because it illustrates what could happen to them on the job, said Wells, who's been with the Santa Maria Fire Department for 11 years.
“We do this to remember those fellow brothers we lost in that tragedy,” he said. “In the beginning, they thought it was just a routine fire at the towers and they never expected to lose such a huge part of that department. For us here in Santa Maria, it’d be like if we lost 30 guys in a single fire.”
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Following the ceremony, Wells invited guests to ask questions and observe the station's 9/11 memorial, which includes a section of steel that was used in the construction of the World Trade Center.
Jack Owen, a former Santa Maria firefighter and Guadalupe fire chief, was among the guests present for Wednesday’s ceremony.
The memory of 9/11 is still vivid nearly two decades later, Owen said.
“I was getting ready to go to work and had the TV on,” he said. “It was unbelievable. You see the first plane, ‘Oh, it was an accident.’ When the second one hit, it was clearly something beyond an accident.
“The whole day stopped for pretty much everyone around the stations — we just stayed and watched TV on it,” he said.
Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @razisyed