Wednesday, September 22, 2021

“I’ll Do It Again in Heartbeat”: Bay Area Firefighters reconsider search and rescue mission to Ground Zero after 9/11

Frank Freon still has a chronic cough, 20 years after working to recover the bodies of those killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

Over the years it has become even worse for the now retired Menlo Park firefighter, with frequent coughing, shortness of breath and a few days at Ground Zero his lung damage was far more damaging than it was. Initially thought.

Although he was honored to be able to recover the remains of the victims and close down proud families, which were devastated by a sudden and unimaginable attack that shook the United States and launched a two-decade-long military campaign in the Middle East, Redwood residents said he had his wounds and scars. Didn’t expect to come back with.

“I’ve been coughing for about a year,” Freon said. “It started when I got home. I coughed for months and did all sorts of tests, but by then it was damaged and it was too late. The lungs were already sore.”

The result is a sick one for Fraon, who retired in 2015: as long as they thought her kids would probably not have a father. But when asked if he would come back again with piles of dead metal, toxic dust and ghostly images, he said “I’ll do exactly the same thing.”

Frank Freon of the Menlo Park Fire Department // took pictures in front of the Peel at Ground Zero a few days after the 11 attacks. (Photo courtesy California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3)

Freon went to Ground Zero with his boss, then-Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Chapelhuman, and 1 fellow firefighter from the department. Members of the Femur Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force, located in Menlo Park, and they also had 50 firefighters across the peninsula.

In separate interviews, Freon and Chapelhuman both said they would risk their lives again in search of prey. After the horrific deaths of thousands of civilians at the hands of Islamic extremists, hundreds of first-timers are examples of their self-serving actions.

On that horrific morning of September 11, Fryon was dressed in firefighting gear in Sierra Nevada, less than a week before he left for the desert to continue fighting the devastating Derby fire in the region.

Sitting in the day room at Arnold’s fire station, Frone watched in horror as TV showed live images of smoke billowing from the North Tower of the World Trade Center before the second plane hit the South Tower, a huge explosion fireball, a picture seen in his memory.

“It was a sad moment,” Freon said. “I knew I worked with my friends at the New York Fire Department because part of the federal search and rescue team was there. I immediately started dialing the number. ”

It turned out that the firefighters he trained died in response to an unprecedented attack on U.S. soil. Freon was ready to go in the middle of everything.

Both Freon and Chapelhuman described the anxiety they felt on a military plane en route to New York, not knowing what was in the store.

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“Think about the mentality,” said Chapelhoman, who retired earlier this year. “We are not sure We Coming back, and we’re not sure if we’ll be caught in a secondary attack or fall or something. ”

"I'll Do It Again in Heartbeat": Bay Area Firefighters reconsider search and rescue mission to Ground Zero after 9/11
Ben Marra (left), Frank Freon (center) and Harold Chapelhoman of the Menlo Park Fire Department pose in front of Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks as part of Operation California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3. (Photo courtesy California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3)

It was about 2 a.m. when Scapelhoman got off the plane four days after the attack. On a bridge leading to Manhattan, Chappellhuman recalled, he saw the huge hole where the two towers once stood apart, still smoking.

“It made the hair on the back of my neck stand out,” Chapelhoman said. “We all gave DNA so we could be found when we got lost. There were piles of fire, and firefighters knew what the smell of burnt meat was. This kind of sensitive-driven memory sticks with you. We were then told, ‘We lost uniforms, police cars and we heard that this terrorist group prefers to use vehicle bombs and suicide bombers.’ I was ‘Holy cow, we’re in it now.’ “

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"I'll Do It Again in Heartbeat": Bay Area Firefighters reconsider search and rescue mission to Ground Zero after 9/11
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER :: Twenty years after responding to the 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, retired Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Chapelhuman recalled from his home in San Jose, Calif., On Thursday, September 2021, five. Weeks he spent in rescue and recovery efforts. (Carl Mandon / Bay Area News Group)

Freon said his team is hopeful of finding survivors in the wreckage, but after retrieving parts of the body and finding the body of one of the New York port authorities who went missing a few days ago, they knew it was going to be a recovery mission. But it wasn’t all dark.

Brilliant moments include being able to bring someone back to their loved one, Freon said.

Yet, knowing that the 363 firefighters who went to work that day did not come home, there remains a thought for Freon and Chapelhuman. But that is why they and others risked their lives – so death was not in vain.

“I’m going to do exactly the same thing again, physically and knowing everything that happened, I’m still going out,” Freon said. “I consider myself lucky to be able to go home, but it has changed my life. I don’t think anyone who went there changed that. ”

Twenty years later, Chapelhuman said he was proud of the team that went to the World Trade Center. He remembers about 0% of the firefighters in Menlo Park who fell ill on their way there or after they returned to the Bay Area. Bleeding from the nose, skin lesions, coughs, sinus infections and pneumonia were common.

Yet there is no regret.

“Am I proud? Yes,” said Chapelhuman. “Shall I go again?” Yes. Do we wish we could get better breathing? Sure. Was there any risk? Yes. But I went there to do a job. We knew we might not come back. We knew we could be injured. There is always risk in our work.

As hard as it was, we were going there to pick up all the pieces and try to rebuild. People in positions of power may have forgotten, but we will never forget. ”

"I'll Do It Again in Heartbeat": Bay Area Firefighters reconsider search and rescue mission to Ground Zero after 9/11
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