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Around the world Monday, people have been recalling the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. that claimed thousands of lives.

Hundreds of firefighters were killed while responding and trying to save victims. On this 16th anniversary of the attacks, I visited the Louisville Fire Department headquarters, where I spoke with firefighters Andrew Tompkins and Alan Cruse. Listen to what they had to say in the player above.

They had not yet become firefighters when the attacks occurred, but both recall them vividly and say they think about the attacks during their daily work.

Tompkins was just an eighth grader in 2001. When the first tower fell, he was returning from a funeral. He recalled thinking the initial crash could’ve been an accident. Then, another plane struck the second tower.

Kyeland Jackson | wfpl.org

Alan Cruse (left) and Andrew Tompkins.

“It was a shock,” Tompkins said. “Seeing the news, seeing first responders — police, EMS and fires — on a scale like that. And being that young, I couldn’t grasp the concept of what was going on and why it was happening.”

Alongside Tompkins is Alan Cruse, a four-year veteran of the fire department. Cruse had just left high school when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Cruse said 9/11 united America and changed people’s perspectives.

“If you’re from America or loved America, I think you were affected that day,” Cruse said.

But both say the attacks aren’t the sole reason they turned to firefighting. Instead, it was a sense of duty which motivated them to serve in the military and eventually the fire department.

“As a firefighter working in this neighborhood, I see some of the same kids, some of the same people, and it kind of makes [helping] more tangible,” Cruse said. “I’ve always liked helping people so I would’ve probably done this even if that wouldn’t have happened.”

Tompkin agrees. Both celebrate their work anniversaries this month. For Tompkins, it will be five months of working at the Louisville Fire Department; for Cruse, five years.

“You don’t join to see results, you join because there’s an inner calling,” Tompkins said. “It’s an outstanding job to have.”

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.