LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Nearly one decade after 9/11, first-responders in Los Angeles can still vividly recall the urgency of those hours following the attacks.
KNX 1070’s Pete Demetriou reports the terror and the call to duty of that day will be forever seared in the memory of one local firefighter.
L.A. City Fire Deputy Chief Mario Rueda was the task force leader for L.A.’s Urban Search and Rescue team who joined his 70-person team aboard a USAF cargo jet to head for Ground Zero less than 27 hours after the attack.
Rueda said the flight itself took on a surreal nature moving through a silent and vacant sky.
“The pilot told me there was three aircraft in the air over the continental United States, us being one of them,” he said.
When the crew finally arrived around noon on Sept. 12, they finally got their first look at what was left of the World Trade Center.
“I don’t think any one of us had seen that level of devastation, and it was even more powerful when we got on the ground in Manhattan,” recalled Rueda.
The task force leader split his team to in two in order to cover continuous 12-hour shifts lasting for 11 days — a schedule that almost ended in more tragedy.
“We had an explosion inside while we conducting search operations, and the explosion created a large fireball,” he said. “I can recall standing a 40-ton beam and that beam picked up about a foot during that explosion.”
However, Rueda’s crew only suffered minor burns while other adjacent task forces saw some more serious injuries.
Many of those who served on that 11-day mission are now senior leaders and managers who pass on the lessons of how to handle a 9-11 type disaster to those who stand ready to respond when — not if — it happens again.