Flanked by a rusted, charred steel plate from the World Trade Center, which collapsed in a terrorist attack 11 years ago, Tampa firefighters hosted a solemn remembrance Tuesday morning, punctuated by a long moment of silence and the ringing of a bell at the moment the south tower collapsed.
The attack claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people and hundreds of firefighters in New York.
About 40 Tampa Fire Rescue firefighters and paramedics and a handful of area law enforcement officers stood silent as a five-member honor guard dressed in dark blue dress uniforms presented the colors.
Among the solemn gallery: David Retzlaff, a firefighter for 30 years with the department, doing his duty on the last day before retirement.
After the ceremony, Retzlaff recalled watching in horror the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
"It was very heartbreaking," said the 55-year-old veteran. "Words just could not describe what you saw."
The event changed the profession, he said.
Russell Spicola, a training chief with the department, agreed.
"Eleven years ago," he said, "I knew things had completely changed. I knew we lost a lot of firefighters that day."
Today, he said, the events of 9/11 have put the nation - particularly its firefighters - on guard.
"We don't know who our friends are," he said. "We don't know who our foes are. We have to be vigilant every time we get on that truck."
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke briefly at the ceremony, held in the Tampa Firefighters Museum, a 101-year-old brick building on Zack Street. Among the permanent exhibits: a 280-pound steel plate on display with the names of the 343 firefighters who perished at the World Trade Center.
"This country suffered a catastrophic and unmitigated attack on the freedoms we all enjoy," Buckhorn said. "We will never forget what happened on 9/11."
Fire rescue spokeswoman Debra Sue Warshefski recorded the ceremony and posted it online.
The attacks, she said, "molded our nation into what it is today" - ever wary, more protective of our freedoms.
"It empowered us to change as a culture," she said. "It shaped the future for generations."