Indiana Task Force 1 remembers 9/11
INDIANAPOLIS - As Indiana remembers 9/11, Eyewitness News recalls that in the hours following the attacks on New York City, a group of Hoosier men and women were sent to Ground Zero. They are experts in urban search and rescue, but this was like no other assignment.
New York City on September 12th, 2001: Blake Wallis was there.
"Just devastation everywhere. The smoke - there was always smoke in the air. The fire burned the entire time we were there," he said.
The day after the worst attack on United States soil was witnessed by Matt Stewart, deputy chief of the Wayne Township Fire Department and Task Force 1 member.
"It was definitely an overwhelming and surreal and basically and indescribable scene," said Stewart.
In the midst of it all was Tony Zintsmaster, one of the members of a special Task Force from Indiana.
"The amount of heat and force that came down with that pretty much pulverized everything," he said.
All that remained of the World Trade Center was a pile of steel and ash. The surrounding buildings were empty.
"Purses and wallets left; I mean, they just left. And that was amazing, it was kind of like everyone just disappeared," said Stewart.
Working under the authority of FEMA, 62 men and women, firefighters and civilians, comprised an urban search and rescue team called Indiana Task Force 1. Their goal was to find survivors in the wreckage. Quickly it became clear that it was a mission impossible.
Task Force 1 got the call to respond just hours after the attacks on September 11th. That evening they left Indianapolis and headed to New York City. Within 24 hours they were working in the debris at Ground Zero.
"Working with the firefighters, being there when they would remove some of the firefighters that were located, that was probably when it was the toughest," said Stewart.
A Labrador retriever named Scout scoured the pile, as did Kaiser, a then two-year-old German Shepard.
"We never said a word. Firemen just came up and gave him a hug, stood there and held him for a few minutes, or a moment or minute or whatever. Then just went on. The dogs almost became therapy dogs for the responders who were on the pile," said Zintsmaster.
Only when they saw an aerial view of the destruction did the gravity of what had happened truly sink in.
"I thought, we haven't learned anything. We're right back in the 12th century fighting the crusades where we're killing each other over religion. And, I didn't lose my faith in God, but I lost my faith in religion," said Blake Wallis, Task Force 1.
But not in humankind. Alongside the desolation was hope, and America united by strangers helping strangers.
"Every time I'm disappointed in people, I always find other people that impress me," said Zintsmaster.
In a time of desperate need, a few dozen Hoosiers showed up to lend a helping hand.
A crowd of some 3,000 people gave Task Force members a hero's welcome on Monument Circle after their return from New York City.