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Central Ohio First Responders Remember 9-11

As the scope of the 9-11 tragedy was revealed, first responders from all over the country rushed to help.  Three Central Ohio firefighters who were dispatched to ground zero reflected on their experiences. "One of the other firefighters came up and said hey you need to see the T.V., a plane just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center," said Kochensparger. Upper Arlington Firefighter Dan Kochensparger was at the fire station when 2 planes flew into the World Trade Center Towers in New York City on September 11th, 2001.  He was part of the Ohio Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team set up by the federal government's FEMA program.  Kochensparger and two of his teammates on the task force Upper Arlington Fire Chief Jeff Young and Columbus Battalion Chief Jack Reall took time to remember 911. "We knew I mean and I think for the most part everybody knew that with the amount of fire that was involved that was probably going to cut off the escape route for all the people above those floors," said Reall. The task force assembled the evening of 9-11 at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and gathered their equipment for an all-night drive to Manhattan.  They arrived early the next morning and saw smoke and chaos. Firefighter Dan Kochensparger: "When I first saw my close up view and we were fairly close to the south tower which was the first one that went down, was how are we going to get our arms around this," said Kochensparger. Columbus Battalion Chief Jack Reall remembers the debris that was scattered for blocks. "One of the first things I think that hit all of us was the damaged fire trucks.  You had fire trucks all over the place blocks away from here that were just completely destroyed.  They were folded in half, they were upside down.  And there were fire hoses in and out of the rubble all over the place still pumping water," said Reall. For ten days working 12 hour shifts at least, the search and rescue team combed through the mounds of debris. Kochensparger says first they searched for any survivors. "There was a void space that was found and they wanted someone to go into this void space which would lead underground and check and see if there were any survivors.  So they called us up because they knew we had the protective equipment, the training and the skills and so on to be able to do that and do it safely," said Kochensparger. Upper Arlington Fire Chief, Jeff Young says the work required a lot of strength and concentration. "Keeping track of where you've looked at is really the needle in a haystack scenario.  Where have you sent resources? Where have you looked?  Because a lot of what we did up there was you searched, you searched what you could access and then the cranes and the steelworkers and the crews would remove a bunch of materials and they would uncover new voids," said Young. Young fought back tears as he recalled the moving gestures sent from family members and New Yorkers. "Everybody there I think our main focus was probably what did we get what kind of letters did we get from our families and drawings from the kids and then being touched and I think that's when we started to become or at least I started to become more aware of the enormity of how it was touching everybody," Young reflected. Young says the scope of the tragedy is stronger today. "It's much more difficult now some of it's either my age or a reflection on it or knowing how it's touched people's lives versus there it's what we do," said Young. Battalion Chief Reall says 911 changed the way fire departments do their job.  Now they work more closely with law enforcement. And communication has improved among agencies.  Also a medical surveillance program for the task force was established to monitor the health of firefighters who worked at ground zero.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.