TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — In Arizona, as the terrible images played on TV screens across the country, a group of wildland firefighters were about to get a call to go help out with the unthinkable.
"Walking the site, you didn't see anything solid other than steel or clothing. Everything else was pulverized." Flashbacks come back for retired Northwest Fire Battalion Chief Dugger Hughes.
"When the second plane hit, I told my wife, well, we're gone. What do you mean? And I was a member of Type 1 incident management team. There's 16 in the country and we were up number one in rotation," said Hughes.
In 2001, Hughes was with the U.S. Forest Service in Prescott, Arizona and his team got the orders to go. "The only problem was there were no flights anywhere if you guys remember it was all shot down. So, we hung around and we hung around and about midnight we got the call that there was a plane coming in," Hughes said.
And then it was off to the east coast. "We started opening up an old warehouse for a receiving and distribution center a couple days later we were down actually down at the site. They tried to meld us up with leadership of FDNY," said Hughes said.
When the twin towers came down, firefighters lost all communication to crews on the ground.
To get into good graces, with the New Yorkers, Hughes and his team offered to step in.
"We said we can get your communications again and they said how? We have these portable radio setups that we utilize all the time out in the hills on wild land fires and we can get it and he said prove it," said Hughes.
That's exactly what they did. Once communication was back, Hughes and his crew spent 35 days with FDNY. "Every day they would dress up in their uniforms and go to a funeral service for one of the fallen firefighters and come back and go to another service and come back to work and how to get through that emotionally, I'm not sure," said Hughes.
But they found the strength to carry on. "I don't want to be graphic maybe a body part or something. They would say I found this at this site. Every evening, we would come along and pick up that information and then take it back to our incident command post," said Hughes.
He tells me walking the site was ungodly, but when tragedies happen its important to remember this.
"I didn't cause this, ok, I didn't make this happen. I'm just trying to make it better," said Hughes. And despite the unthinkable circumstances first responders like Hughes were witness to, they are walking away with bonds that will last a lifetime.
"They're some of the best friends I've ever had, as the FDNY guys a bond that never would of happen because of that its funny out of such of a terrible terrible disaster good things come out in the end," said Hughes.
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