AUSTIN (Nexstar) — First responders across the country banded together 20 years ago to help with recovery efforts in New York City after the devastating 9/11 attacks. That includes Texas Task Force One, a team of first responders from across the state.
“I was a young firefighter, and I was at home and I turned on the TV and the news was on. And they were showing the footage of the first building on fire,” Austin-based firefighter Eddie Martinez reflected the day before the 20-year anniversary. He said he got the call to join Texas Task Force 1 for their rescue mission just a few hours later.
“For probably the first day or two I was hopeful that we were going to…a void was going to be opened by one of the cranes we’re going to go in and we’re going to find live people. And after a couple of days it was we quickly realized that it was more of a recovery mission than a search mission,” Martinez explained.
“When I got there, the pile’s huge, the first hole I went into when I went into it actually shifted, and there were some really scary things that were happening. So when I came out of the hole, I actually stopped and said a prayer and said, you know, what, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. And but I need to get to work,” Martinez said.
The task force assisted in NYC for 10 days. That team also included Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Kidd, who was then a firefighter in San Antonio.
“The events of 9/11, I think shaped all of the future for emergency services and emergency management,” Chief Kidd said Friday. He said the rescue efforts had a huge impact on his career.
“I really think it was that kind of attention paid by citizens, by local elected officials, by state legislatures, and by Congress in the federal administrations that made us really be more aware and in a right wrong or indifferent helped us prepare to be able to respond to the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Dolly and Edward and Gustavo, even Harvey, you know, we’ve come so far, since 9/11. And, you know, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go,” Chief Kidd said.
Now, years later, Martinez reflects on photos he took on his disposable camera.
“My pictures, you know, they look amazing to other people, but they don’t remind me anything that was there. And it’s silly, but it’s noises, its smells, it’s other things that immediately take me back to being there,” Martinez said.
He even gets daily reminders now downtown at his fire station in Austin, even without the photos.
“When we first got there, the airspace was still closed. And I remember exactly where I was standing when the first plane when the airspace was opened back up in the first flight plane flew over. And almost every single time, especially if I’m downtown, when I see a plane fly over. It puts me standing in the exact same place that I was standing in New York,” Martinez explained.
He also said he will never forget how the nation came together in the months to follow, and the camaraderie other New York firefighters showed his team while they were there.
“One New York City firefighter who was sitting on a wall with me, said, ‘Hey, what do you guys do for dinner? And I said, ‘Oh, we go back to the Jacob Javits Center, and they have stuff there for us.’ He’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, you go, you don’t do that. He goes, my car’s parked right over here on whatever road,’ he said, he goes, ‘My keys are on the visor. He said, you go over there, you get in my car, you get as many people as you can go on there. You go to any bar, any restaurant in town, you tell them the New York City firefighters sent you, and they’re gonna take care of you,” Martinez said.
Chief Kidd said he hopes the younger generation will continue to learn about the attack.
“This is 20 years ago, we have so many people that were not even born then. So when we continue to say never forget, we should also start to say and always remember,” Chief Kidd said.