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Local 9/11 first responders remember the day, still feel the effects

Posted: 8:25 PM, Sep 11, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-11 21:25:36-04

BRYAN, TX — Texas Task Force 1 was one of the four Federal Emergency Management Agencies (FEMA) US&R Task Forces to be activated upon the terrorist attacks to the World Trade Centers.

On the 18th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, several who responded during the deployment of Texas Task Force 1 met with 25 News.

"I was actually in a class right in that building right over there doing a structural collapse train the trainer class. We had never put it into practice anywhere but we were literally in the classroom with the cream of the crop from the FEMA system," remembered Ken Dean.

Describing the moment when all pagers and phones began to buzz, Paul Gunnel, Texas Task Force 1 member and current Texas A&M Director of Rescue, explained he had just arrived back home from a shift at the firehouse when his friend called.

"One of my buddies called, and said "Hey you need to turn on your TV and look,"" said Gunnel.

They described it was mere hours until the task force was mobilized and eventually deployed.

"We flew into McGuire Air Force Base, got vetted by the FBI to even be on the scene, and we still couldn't really wrap our head around it," explained Dean.

It was week later that the task force arrived in New York City.

Describing as they crossed the bridge to Manhattan, "It was daylight but when you walked around the corner there was so much smoke and debris that it was darkened, like a bad cloud above you the dust I should say was covering the sun, where you're walking into a kind of eerie feeling," said Gunnel.

"Nobody said a word. We all just kind of walked around in circles and we were supposed to stay put in one place. We were a RIT, a rapid intervention team and just no body said anything," said Dean.

Texas Task Force 1 spent a total of nine days working 24 hours a day, totaling 216 hours, prior to being called back.

"During your search and rescue were any survivors recovered?" asked 25 News' Erin Heft.

Gunnel responded, "No ma'am."

"We found a rope that had a marking, so these were search ropes used by firefighters. We followed the rope, and it goes into a wall, and you know the people on the other side of that rope didn't survive. That puts a perspective on it that you realize that you're not bullet proof," said Gunnel.

"Until you actually rode the bus down to the ground zero, you just couldn't get a feel for it, even though we had seen it on TV. We were just, I suppose, in shock," explained Dean.

Gunnel explained that the mass casualties experienced that day is prolonged and experienced to this very day.

"A lot more people are dying now of cancers, and different things like that are more and more, as more studies are coming out are being related to those...that event, and that event affects first responders because they were in the debris for a long time but it's also affecting the local citizens also," said Gunnel.