On September 11, 2001, foreign terrorists attacked the United States. Terrorists trained as pilots hijacked four airliners. Two crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Both of these towers eventually collapsed. Another airliner was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. While a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers overpowered the hijackers. On this day, thousands of people, from 80 countries, died in the world's largest coordinated terrorist attack. The entire world was stunned.
At the World Trade Center buildings, hundreds of the cities emergency services personnel were killed when the buildings fell as they were attempting to do their jobs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) immediately dispatched Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams to both New York and Washington, DC. By the time FEMA US&R operations were closed, every team in the nation had been deployed to either the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. It was the largest mobilization of this county's US&R capabilities in history.
California Task Force 3 (CaTF-3) was deployed to New York City on September 18th including six DART members. The entire intervening week between the attack and the deployment was spent fine-tuning the team and its equipment for deployment. It was never a matter of "if" the team was going, it was a matter of "when". CaTF-3 flew out of Travis Air Force Base on two aircraft. One, a C-141 cargo transport carried the team's equipment. The second, a C-5B cargo transport, carried the team members in relative comfort as compared to the paratrooper netting that would have been available in the C-141.
The team arrived at McGuire AFB in New Jersey in the evening. They were transported to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in midtown Manhattan, the Federal staging facility. After a few starts and stops, the team was notified it would break into two elements to create a Rapid Reaction Task Force capability. New York City's collapsed structure rescue capability had just been wiped out. A heightened threat level for further terrorist action, added to the issue of buildings collapsing for other reasons within the five boroughs of New York City. CaTF-3 was selected to replace the lost capability of FDNY. One team, Rapid Reaction Task Force 1 (RRTF1) remained at the Javits Center. The other team, RRTF2, headed out to Ft. Totten in Queens. Within 24 hours, CaTF-3 created the RRTF functional capability and became an active element in support of FDNY. Though no operations were carried out during the four days of CaTF-3 RRTF readiness, CaTF-3 was very proud of the opportunity to support FDNY and New York City in this unprecedented capacity.
After turning over the RRTF job to Nebraska Task Force 1, CaTF-3 was reunited as a full team back at Javits Center. For the next four days, CaTF-3 operated two 12-hour shifts supporting the search and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. The team worked side-by-side with members of all elements of the New York City emergency services units and various trade professionals. Though the work was both physically and emotionally tiring, this was what we had originally come to do. There was an immense satisfaction from the opportunity to help the Country and New York City in a way that so few people can.
CaTF-3 was well cared for while in New York City. Random House Publishing "adopted" our team and the many volunteers from this corporation saw to our every need. We only had to whisper a desire ("foot powder, please") and boxes would appear. There were more people to tend to our needs than there were of us to tend to New York City.
As CaTF-3 was preparing to head back to California, California Task Force 4 (Oakland Fire Department) was showing up ready to go to work. One of our NASA DART personnel, a K-9 handler, and her dog, deployed with CaTF-4. They continued to work at Ground Zero for the days after CaTF-3 had returned home.
CaTF-3 returned home on September 30, 2001. A chartered aircraft flew us into Moffett Field where the Chief's from the various participating agencies greeted us. The team was then bussed to Menlo Park Fire Station 77 for a grand reception and check out.
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