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Orange County

Firefighters Recall a Morning of Sacrifice

September 12, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

In dignified, understated fashion, Orange County remembered the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 with dozens of somber ceremonies Thursday.

What they lacked in the prayers, speeches and tears that marked last year's commemoration of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they made up for in simple poignancy, from the mournful pealing of bagpipes to reflections on the words of the nation's founding fathers.

At the Santa Ana Police Department, which held the largest event in the county, 150 people gathered for a ceremony with representatives from every county fire agency.

"Even though it's been two years, when the bagpipes start playing it brings back the memories as vividly as if it happened yesterday," Santa Ana Fire Capt. Anthony Espinosa said.

The service honored those killed during the 2001 terrorist attacks as well as the 16 county firefighters who died this past year in the line of duty. The event finished with a recitation of the firefighters' oath of office.

"Sometimes," Espinosa said, "we need to be reminded what we're here for and what we stand for."

All 60 Orange County Fire Authority stations held services starting at 8:46 a.m., which was the time on the East Coast when the hijacked jet struck the first World Trade Center tower two years ago.

At Station 4, adjacent to UC Irvine, 17 firefighters, paramedics and a chaplain observed a moment of silence and then saluted the flag as it was lowered to half-mast. The 10-minute ceremony concluded with a radio broadcast that blared from a fire engine: "God bless America!"

Firefighter Jim Pruitt, 54, stood with his colleagues in front of the station as cars drove by, passing motorists peering at the minimal ceremony.

"This event makes us remember what is really important," said the 27-year department veteran after the service. "It helps center me."

In the two years since Battalion Chief Kirk Summers watched on television as the towers fell, he has seen training on weapons of mass destruction become as essential to his department as instruction about wildfires.

The community outpouring of cakes, cookies and affection has slowed to a trickle, although the increase in respect for what Summers and his colleagues do on a daily basis remains palpable.

"But I would trade that in a heartbeat for the lives of those 343 firefighters killed that day," Summers said. "People thinking we're heroes is not worth that kind of sacrifice."

In Tustin, city officials and history buffs packed a City Hall lobby for the dedication of the county's third Freedom Shrine, a display of dozens of historical document replicas.

Afterward, people remained in the hallway to pore over the 30 document replicas, including the U.S. Constitution, President Washington's first inaugural address and Japan's World War II surrender declaration. One city employee said simply walking by the documents gives her gooseflesh.

"Sept. 11 reawakened our patriotism," said retired Tustin Police Capt. Frank Semelsberger, squinting to read the frilly handwriting on the Monroe Doctrine. "These documents are concrete, tangible signs of what has made our nation great."

Scheduling the dedication for Sept. 11 was intended to remind people what it takes to bring about freedom, Tustin Police Capt. Mike Shanahan said.

"Sept. 11 was such a vivid reminder that freedom is not free," Shanahan said. "It felt right to honor our country's most important documents on this day."

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