As hazy conditions caused by the Butte Fire impacted the air quality in the valley, a crowd gathered on Friday morning outside the Escalon Fire Department on Coley Avenue to mark a somber occasion – the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Coordinated attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. saw terrorists hijack planes to fly into those buildings. A fourth plane went down in a field in rural Pennsylvania, as passengers fought back against the hijackers and gained control of the plane, which crashed without hitting its intended target.
The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 resulted in thousands of civils deaths and the loss of hundreds of emergency services personnel.
Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello, who has hosted nine ‘Patriots Day’ ceremonies in the nine years he has served as chief in Escalon, said there will be a service each year as long as he is here. It’s a way to make sure we never forget those who lost their lives that day, Mello said, as well as those that have been lost in the years since, in the War on Terror and those who have contracted cancer from the toxins at Ground Zero in NYC after the towers fell.
This year’s ceremony was also in honor of the late Brent Layton, who passed away on Memorial Day this year, and who was an honorary member of the Escalon Fire Department. He lost his son, James Layton, in Afghanistan and was good friends with Mike Anderson, a liaison for Congressman Jeff Denham. Anderson, who was a guest speaker at the Friday morning ceremony in Escalon, lost his son Mike Jr. in Iraq in 2004.He was a member of the Marine Corps.
Mello began the ceremony with a listing of the events of that fateful September day 14 years ago.
“We lost 343 new York City firefighters that day,” he said.
There were also 23 NYC police officers and 37 Port Authority officers killed, in addition to over 2,600 in the Towers, 125 at the Pentagon and over 265 on the planes.
Former county supervisor Ken Vogel classified 9/11 as “The Pearl Harbor of our generation” and thanked the multiple Escalon emergency services personnel in attendance for their service.
A ‘Bell Ceremony’ – the bell tolled three times in a series of three rings – signaled the ‘final call’ for those who lost their lives that day, Mello said, and was conducted at the Friday event.
Offering the closing prayer was Cara Davis, a youth pastor and the daughter of local pastor and fire department chaplain Jim Davis, who is currently battling brain cancer.
“We ask for special protection for our Armed Forces,” Cara Davis said. “Our firefighters, our police department and ambulance personnel … special blessings for them as they go where no one else will; bring them guidance in knowing what to do in each situation.”