Amarillo’s ceremony marking the 17th anniversary of the East Coast terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 was solemn and celebratory of the lives lost.

The Amarillo Fire Department joined with other local law enforcement and first responding personnel at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial Tuesday morning to honor all of those impacted.

The memorial began at 8:45 a.m., the same time that Al Qaeda terrorists flew hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

“I was the one who activated the emergency operations center that morning,” said Kevin Starbuck, assistant city manager for the City of Amarillo. “You can’t deny that there was a distinct change in tenor and focus for individuals who were in the city. The Chase Tower evacuated as the largest building between Oklahoma City and Denver, we had the diversion of upwards of 20 aircraft at Amarillo International Airport, (and) we had to step up our efforts on how we were going to better secure our community and see if we were doing the right things to secure our community.”

Starbuck said the community cast aside differences and came together in prayer and unity, as they continue to do on every anniversary of the date that claimed 2,977 innocent lives and caused subsequent health issues for thousands more.

Starbuck said, “We need to take the time to remember the sacrifice of the brave men and women who responded to that incident, the sacrifice of the innocent victims that were in the towers, and how as a country can we grow from that, learn from that, and improve the security of our nation moving forward.”

“I think that it’s important that us civilians are included because we need to realize what it feels like to be near these first responders and service members because this is their world every day. For us civilians, we feel shielded because of them,” said William Ware, president of Amarillo National Bank and guest speaker at the memorial. “They’re the reason we’re able to live our lives the way we are today.”

Ware was away at college in Dallas when he learned of the terror attacks.

“I went from a naïve college kid that thought the world was safe and I’d live forever to realizing that life is precious, that freedom is rare and that freedom must be defended,” he said. “It really woke us up.”

"Aspects of society are different today than they were on Sept. 10 (2001)," said AFD Capt. Kyle Joy. "The events of that day have continued to shape the fire service 17 years later in our training, our equipment, what we prepare for - we prepare for things differently because that day also changed building codes."

Joy said changes were made to the equipment on the fire truck as well as to a firefighter's personal equipment like their self-contained breathing apparatus. Firefighters also now participate in HAZMAT training that deals with weapons of mass destruction.

"Sept. 11 opened the eyes to all Americans that what we didn't think was possible is absolutely possible," he said. "I wouldn't have thought that the World Trade Center would fall, just like somebody might not think that Amarillo would be a target, but we always have to be prepared."

Amarillo Police Department’s Cpl. Jeb Hilton said the procedures and training at the APD also changed in the wake of the attacks.

“The attacks that day have changed the way that our department trains, the way that we go to work daily and things that we look for when we are working. There are things that weren’t necessarily a concern before the 9/11 attacks that are now something we have to look out for,” he said. “We look for anything we can that looks out of line locally. We have to depend on the local public to alert us to things that seem out of line … whether it’s a suspicious person or a suspicious package. We depend a lot on the public’s input on what looks out of line in our community.”

“This is a day we should never forget,” Ware added. “I believe if we don’t have these events, it could fall on deaf ears. Moments like this in history are so horrific that we have to remind ourselves that it happened, or it will happen again.”