Sept. 11 attacks still fresh in our memories

DOWNEY - Downey fire chief Lonnie Croom was sleeping when the first hijacked airliner hit the World Trade Center almost 10 years ago.Croom was in bed when his TV, which also served as his alarm clock, interrupted his sleep at about 6 a.m. "I could hear the news talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I thought it was probably a Cessna," recalled Croom, a fire captain at the time. "Then my family came in and told me to watch. That's when I realized, 'Oh my god, that's no Cessna.'" Croom, a firefighter in Downey with nearly 30 years experience, watched the towers burn with a trained eye. He knew the flames were putting tremendous strain on the towers. "At some point the building's going to weaken," Croom said. "It can only take so much heat. And once the first floor is gone, they're all gone. It just pancakes down. "Every firefighter knows that going in," he continued. "They know they may not make it out." Croom said his "heart stopped" when the trade center's South Tower collapsed. "As the firefighters are going into the second tower now they know what's going to happen," Croom said. "Their courage blows your mind. You try to put yourself in those shoes. What would you do? Do you get on the phone really quick to call your family to hear their voice one more time?" In 2001, the Downey Fire Department was in the midst of turnover, with 15-17 rookie firefighters, brand new to fire service, in its ranks. In fact, more than 1/3 of current Downey firefighters were hired after the Sept. 11 attacks. Croom said the attacks had a profound effect on the young firefighters, who had never witnessed such tragedy. In Downey, 80 percent of fire department service calls are medical related. "It kind of woke them up to what they're up against," Croom said. "For us old guys it made us step back and appreciate every minute we have here, appreciate the job, appreciate the family. There are no guarantees." Downey resident Carol Espinoza was also in bed when the terrorists struck. "I was at home asleep and I remember my dad screaming, 'There has been a horrible accident in New York,'" she said. "I didn't pay much attention but when the second tower was hit I will never forget my dad's scream. I jumped out of my bed and ran to the living room (where) he kept saying over and over, staring at the television, "This was not an accident!' I will never forget that moment." Author and former Downey resident Wil Stanton had a flight scheduled on Sept. 11, 2001. "I was getting ready to catch a flight to New Jersey for my job, after just coming back from there two days before," Stanton said. "I flew in early (two days) to catch up with some stuff at home. I wasn't allowed to fly out that day." Resident JC Mendoza was returning home from a morning jog when he heard the news. "My brother stopped me outside as I headed to my room and told me, 'They are attacking us...They are attacking the U.S.!'" "I proceeded to my room and as I turned on the TV, I witnessed the plane hit the second tower," Mendoza added. "I was glued to the TV as I watched in horror and disbelief...I will never forget." Luis He, a middle school student at the time, witnessed the attacks at home but didn't grasp the severity of the situation until later. "I didn't understand until my first period teacher at East Middle School explained that we had been attacked," he said. "Still a touchy subject to this day."

********** Published: September 08, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 21