Missouri first responders still emotional 20 years after 9/11 Ground Zero duty

Regional News

COLUMBIA, MO. — When the World Trade Center towers fell, some Missouri first responders rushed to help. Twenty years later they’re still emotional telling their stories. 

No matter where you were or what you were doing on Sept. 11 2001, you remember when the world as you knew it, changed. Sixty-two Missouri Task Force 1 members were deployed just hours after the first tower was hit. 

Kurt Doolady was a rescue squad officer for the force while Chuck Doss was a rescue specialist. They both still work for the task force, Doolady as the training coordinator and Doss as the planning team manager. 
“We went there with full intention of rescuing live individuals,” Doolady said. “Unfortunately, that’s not what exactly we did.”

Missouri Task Force 1 has been deployed dozens of times, after hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters, but 9/11 was their first federal deployment. 

“As soon as the first tower fell, I kind of assumed what was going to take place and anticipated a deployment,” Doss said. “I grabbed my deployment bags, loaded them up in the truck and headed down here to the office where we started to get boxes ready to go.”

Doolady said he was at his daily job when someone told him to come look at the television because a plane just hit the World Trade Center. That’s when the second plane hit. 

“He said, this is not what I was going to show you, this is another plane and at that point I decided that I was going to stop my work for the day and come here to this facility, knowing that we would probably be getting deployed for an event like this,” Doolady said. 

Both Doss and Doolady, from Boone County, spoke about the lack of technology 20 years ago and the news they relied on was what people told them by word of mouth. 

“Probably 2 a.m. in the morning on the 12th before really you got much news of what was going on in the world at this point,” Doolady said. 

The team flew from Whiteman Air Force Base near Sedalia to New Jersey. 
“We were literally the only planes in the air and we had fighter jets escorting us the entire way,” Doolady said. 

Once in New Jersey, Missouri Task Force 1 prepped to head across the bridge into the city to help with rescue and recovery. 

“When we came across the bridge into Manhattan, one of the guys that was on the squad I was on was from New York and he looks up and we see the smoke coming out of Ground Zero and he says, it’s missing, you guys don’t understand what’s gone,” Doss said. “You turned the corner and you see just how massive of an area it is the amount of people working there, it was very surreal.”

Doss said it was his and many other members’ first trip to New York City. 

“It was a big pile and it wasn’t just one building, it was three or four all in that one area that collapsed,” Doss said. “The lack of information I think that’s where part of that helped because we didn’t know any different. We didn’t know what was going on other than there were some buildings that collapsed.”

For 11 days, Missouri Task Force 1 sorted through debris and rubble, working 12-hour shifts. 
“You see it in pictures sometime where you can see the dust floating and stuff but when you were there you didn’t notice it,” Doss said. 

Hoping to find survivors 

“Family members would line up, thousands and they would have pictures that either be displaying for you to see or they would wad them up and throw them at you and ask you to look for these people,” Doolady said. “It was more motivation to try harder to find somebody alive in this rubble.”

Twenty years later, the two say it’s still tough to talk about and think back on. 
“It’s been a while since that happened,” Doss said while fighting back tears. “It doesn’t feel like 20 years, I say that every year. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.”

“Today, PTSD is real,” Doolady said. “After 9/11, I had a very thorough understanding of PTSD and how it affects your mind and your body.”

As the training coordinator, Doolady said he spends extra time educating about PTSD. 
“People look at the rubble from 9/11 and we look at the rubble from 9/11, we see different things,” Doolady said. “You smell different things. It’s still very real even 20 years ago.”

Never forgetting the nearly 3,000 lives lost. 

“How that event changed the country,” Doss said. “Just the exposure to an incident of that magnitude gives you some experience that helps you in the smaller incidents.”

“This is much larger than just a couple of buildings that have fallen down, this affected hundreds and thousands of people,” Doolady said. 

After spending 11 days in New York City, the task force flew back to Missouri. Doolady said there wasn’t an overpass without people standing and waving flags from. It was even hard for the team to pull into the station with the number of supporters welcoming them home. 

“That really helped this team recover,” Doolady said. “That showed us that we represented the state of Missouri, the citizens from all the different communities our team is made from and just the support that was shown was mentally very healthy.”

Missouri Task Force 1 just returned from helping residents and other first responders in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida. The task force was formed in 1998 and has nearly 210 active members currently, most of the volunteering their time. Members come from as far as three hours, with the farthest member living in Joplin. 
The task force deployed 62 of its 186 members to the World Trade Center in 2001. Of the 62 members, about a dozen of them are still active. Doolady said they have routine health checks to monitor for more than 80 different types of cancer. 

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