MENLO PARK (KCBS) – The memories of 9/11 are resonating across the nation this weekend including for many right here in the Bay Area.
That includes Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman, who was part of a search and rescue team that responded to Ground Zero.
“A part of me was excited because that’s what we do. That’s what we train to do. But part of me had a level of dread,” Schapelhouman said. “It took me about five years to get past the Oklahoma City bombing. Part of the growth from that event was to understand the value of recovery. To give people back their loved ones is very important. It allows them to get some closure.”
KCBS Interviews Harold Schapelhouman About His Experience At Ground Zero:
Schapelhouman said the team was deployed shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001. He remembers the first time he stepped foot on the ground in New York City and saw what was once the World Trade Center.
“We’re all human beings. You have to push back on these events, the anger and frustration and reality of what you’re looking at because it makes you mad. And the senselessness and callousness of it, it’s off the scale,” Schapelhouman said. “You go through a wide range of emotions and you have to shove all that back down.”
He said he knew immediately what the task at hand was going to be for his team.
“Our job was to work in the plaza area between World Trade Center 4 and 5, which had been burned out and had pieces of Tower 1 and 2 in them. Tower 1 had 13 stories out of 110 left. Tower 2 had 11 or 12 stories left,” said Schapelhouman. “Our job when we got there was pretty clear: it was body recovery. I think some of the more naïve members of the team who had never done this before were hopeful we were going to get that rescue. But after the first 12 hours, rescue was essentially over.”
Schapelhouman said the difficult part for his team was that there was very little hope for those underneath all that rubble.
“We received more notoriety and praise for recovery of human beings at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and 9/11 than for rescuing a thousand people during Hurricane Katrina because it was perceived as a failure,” he said. “It’s very rewarding that people say thank you and honor you because of what you do. But it’s very conflicting because when you’re a team that’s set to do living rescues, the goal is to bring the person out alive.”
He said many members of his crew, 10 years later, are still struggling with both emotional and physical tolls to this day. And lessons are still being learned from the events of September 11, 2001.
You can hear KCBS In Depth, a weekly half-hour news interview, Saturdays at 5:30a.m. and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. on KCBS All News 740AM and 106.9FM.
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