BRYAN, Texas — Tuesday, September 11, 2001, started out like any other day for former Bryan Fire Chief Mike Donoho.
“I was at work at the fire station when the morning events started to unfold," said Donoho, former Bryan Fire Chief and Texas Task Force 1 Member. "Someone came into the office and said turn on the news, something's happening in New York City.”
At 8:46 a.m. eastern time, hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Twelve minutes later, at 9:03 a.m. eastern time, hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Two hours later, Texas A&M Task Force 1 (renamed in 2018) was activated.
“By 10 o'clock we received notification that our task force had been activated," said Donoho. "And when that happens, there's a four-hour window by which the team members must report to College Station because that's the home base. And of course, for those of us that live locally, it's not a four-hour drive to College Station. So, I was able to go home and get my go-bag and start preparing myself. My next step was to stop at my wife's place of employment and meet with her and let her know that we have been activated.”
Days following the attack, TXTF1 sent 78 members, including Donoho, to Ground Zero.
“We actually thought that we were leaving, you know as soon as everybody got there that we'd be gone," said Donoho. "We started getting notifications from the FEMA group. First, they told us we were going to the Pentagon, and then they told us to stand down. And then they told us we were going to New York City, and they tell us to stand down. So we activated on September 11th and it was actually probably three or four days after that, that we actually left Bryan College Station to head to New York.”
TXTF1 was taken to Austin, where they flew with a military escort to Fort Dix in New Jersey on a C-130. Once, the task force made it to the east coast, they had a day of meetings regarding their assignment, and met with counselors to get them prepared before they made their way to New York City.
TXTF1 was at Ground Zero for 10 days, working 12-hour shifts. Twenty years later, Donoho says he can still recall the sights, sounds and smells of Ground Zero.
“They're still with you, you know, you think about things, and like I said there are some of those triggers that bring back memories and things," said Donoho. "Something as simple as a five-gallon bucket, to me, brings back a memory because everything we did, we had a five-gallon bucket with us. When you were resting you sat on a bucket. When you found something, you put it in a bucket. You carried your tools in the bucket.”
As he remembers the days that followed the terrorist attacks, Donoho never thought he would be a part of a task force that responds to an event the magnitude of 9/11.
“I said it back then and I'll say it again: Being a responder from Bryan College Station that responded to an emergency in New York City is just something that I never ever thought could happen," said Donoho. "TEEX itself and what TEEX brings to this community; and what they do all over the world, you know they are a world-renowned training facility for emergency responders and they're constantly changing and perfecting preparation, training, and response."
When he sits down to remember 9/11, 20 years later, Donoho is proud to say he was a member of TXTF1 who responded to Ground Zero.
“I tell people we saw a lot of bad things, and we saw a lot of good things," said Donoho. "I choose to remember most of the good things and I'm proud of what I do, but you know, to me, it doesn't hurt to talk about it.”