Wednesday, September 7, 2011
7 News Investigations: 9/11 Search & Rescue
When terrorists struck on 9/11 some of South Florida's firemen and police officers were on the front lines in the search and rescue at Ground Zero. 10 years later, tt's still one of their most important missions.
WSVN -- Ten years may have passed, but the memories of 9/11 are still painfully fresh.
Captain Mike Nugent, Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue: "I remember that like it happened this morning. Someone just came in and said 'Hey, a plane just hit the World Trade Center.'"
Emiliano Tomayo, Miami Homicide Detective: "I woke up and I turned on the television and I thought I was watching a movie."
Frank Fernandez, Miami-Dade Fire: "Immediately the thought was, we are under attack."
Lt. Larry Wideman, Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue: "I can close my eyes and picture everything."
These firemen and police officer are all from different cities and counties around South Florida but they each had the same gut reaction when terror struck.
Captain Mike Nugent: "Everything we had been training for the last 15 years is now 'Are you good to go'? We were good to go, and we wanted to go."
Emiliano Tomayo: "No matter what, we were gonna go to New York."
Right after planes hit the World Trade Center, Miami Homicide detective Emiliano Tomayo and his team drove 20 hours straight to get to New York.
Their job to protect the 6th precinct which housed the NYPD Bomb Squad the next few days would be one life-threatening alarm after another.
Emiliano Tomayo: "They were getting calls that a bridge was being bombed. That a tunnel was ready to blow. We locked that place down."
But nothing could have prepared any of the men for what they would see at Ground Zero.
Emiliano Tomayo: "There was so much debris all over the place. 50 to 60 stories high."
Lt. Larry Wideman: Just the dead silence. The air was really thick, humid, smoky. There was just dust everywhere."
Mike Nugent: "Just the pain, the grief, the desperateness of looking for guys."
Mike Nugent and Larry Wideman from Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue faced the daunting task of searching through what was left of tower two.
Mike Nugent: "We're talking two towers plus surrounding areas, gone. I didn't see a shoe, I didn't see a phone, I didn't see a desk."
Miami-Dade Firefighter Frank Fernandez worked the night shift. Sifting through another section of the pile he knows the danger all the workers faced.
Frank Fernandez: "It was treacherous just because it was the fact that it was dark. The pile you know, it could shift on you, it can do whatever it wants. Guys all over the pile actually getting burned, cuts. Cause there were fires that were still active."
Sadly the men said there were no rescues. The firemen had one goal, to help recover and identify their brothers and sisters.
Mike Nugent: "You can't have a funeral, if you can't identify them. We found five guys, all face down, full-gear. It looked like they had been in a stairwell."
Lt. Larry Wideman: "We would all form lines. And as they carried their brother or sister past all the lines, someone would yell and we would salute. It's just incredible how deeply it hurt."
Frank Fernandez: "I didnt know them personally, They're still our family. It hurts."
Something that even 10 years later still haunts Fernandez.
Frank Fernandez: "It was brought to my attention that 'Hey, you're different. You're not smiling, You're not laughing like you used to. I didn't think it affected me. It did.'"
It's affected them all.
Captain Mike Nugent: "I usually think about all the kids that don't have a dad. 343 Families wiped out. That's what I think about."
Emiliano Tomayo: "When you look back at those sacrifices of those firefighters and police officers. It made me a better cop."
Lt. Larry Wideman: "I think about all the people we have their pictures hanging on the wall in there. You walk by and see it and it reminds of you those heroes who gave their life."
The Miami-Dade fire station number three was dedicated to the heroes of New York. Unlike the rest of Miami Fire Departments their trucks are red, instead of green with the FDNY shield on the trucks. Another eerie coincidence their address is 39-11.