12 years later, Task Force 1 leader remembers 9/11

COLUMBIA, Mo. - It's been 12 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but for some, the pain still feels like it happened yesterday.

The current leader of Missouri's Task Force 1, Doug Westhoff, was also the leader of the force back in 2001, when it was called to New York City to help search and rescue those buried in the rubble.

"It was so overwhelming, we were surrounded by tall buildings while burning is still going on and there's thousands and thousands of people just laying there," Westhoff said. "It was just so chaotic and we were just a speck in the big picture."

He remembers most of the events vividly. 

"The worst part? It was very challenging going in and out of areas because there were hundreds, thousands, of people standing outside holding pictures of their loved ones asking us to find them," he recalls.

Westhoff and 61 other members of the task force were not able to rescue anyone from the rubble; they were only able to recover bodies.

"From all my past experiences, there were no words to describe the level of devastation," he said.

The assistant fire chief says he still wears a bracelet to remember friends he lost. His office is also filled with items like pictures, letters and awards to remember his time at Ground Zero as a first responder.

Westhoff says it is important to remember what happened in the attacks, but make sure to understand the positive things that came out of it.

"It's about finding balance," he said, "It's a respect of those lost and the attack, but we have to counteract that with things that have come out since, like stronger patriotism and the increased support of first responders."

He continues to share his story and experiences of 9/11 with the community. On Wednesday, he taught students in Eldon about how history unfolds every day and the strength of patriotism.

Task Force 1, centered in Boone County, is one of only 28 specialized urban search and rescue teams in the country. They've been called to help in other disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008.

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