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What I Know: Greg Hess

This member of Indiana Task Force 1, one of the first FEMA teams to arrive in New York after the attacks of September 11, will mark the 10-year anniversary by helping to dedicate a memorial in downtown Indianapolis.

AGE: 54  GIG: Firefighter, paramedic, founder of Project 9/11 Indianapolis Rapid Response

I had just gotten home from the fire station when my dad called and told me to turn on the news. Before long, I got a call: “You’re going to New York.”

Like the rest of the nation, we didn’t know what we were getting into. All we knew was that two skyscrapers had fallen down.

We spent 16 hours on a bus to New York. When we first saw the smoke, we were about 30 miles out. Communications were coming in from the city.

They were calling for 50,000 body bags.

At first, we were treated like a bunch of hicks. But we had search cameras, sounding devices, trained dogs. After a while, it was clear we knew what we were doing.

We quickly realized we were on a recovery, not a rescue. I remember fire trucks still pumping water into hose lines that ran into the pile, and realizing that firefighters were at the other end of those hose lines, under millions of tons of rubble.

The search dogs started getting depressed, because they were trained to find survivors. And they weren’t finding any.

One of our first missions was to search a daycare. All the cribs and playpens were empty, like the staff had just dropped everything and taken off.

Last year, I read in Firehouse magazine that artifacts from Ground Zero were available. I hadn’t heard about any plans to put a memorial here. I thought, if I don’t do it, who will?

We got two internal support columns, and we have been able to identify one of them. It’s from the 74th floor of one of the towers.

This memorial is not just for firefighters. We do need to remember the people who ran into those buildings on 9/11. But nearly 2,700 other people died that day.

Everyone remembers what they were doing on September 11, 2001.

—as told to Evan West

Photo by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the September 2011 issue.