Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue chief recounts 9/11 recovery experience

911 Memorial

By WVUA 23 News Reporter Aajene Robinson

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 was Saturday, Sept. 11 and Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue Chief Randy Smith sat down with WVUA 23’s Aajene Robinson for a discussion on his experience in New York City helping with rescue efforts after the attack.

At the time, Smith was deputy commander for the United States Public Health Services in the National Disaster Medical Center.

His team was staffed with doctors, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists, Smith said, and they were deployed to New York from Florida.

“Looking at it on TV was one thing, but when we actually got down to Ground Zero and started orientation for the command staff, you are just looking up at three stories of debris,” Smith said. “Then the big gaping hole in the earth that used to be where these two 110-story buildings stood.”

Smith said it was overwhelming, but he and his team were one of the hundreds of first responders there helping with recovery.

“It was very hard to tell them ‘hey listen, you need to take a break,’ ”  he said. “One of the big things that I know a lot of medical providers up there were worried about having to do because tensions were high.”

Smith said the experience taught him a lot about working with other agencies and being in charge of others during times of high stress.

He said New York’s fire and police departments worked ceaselessly, even though they had the most trauma from the event.

“They were going in, working a shift, would get off and come to Ground Zero and work another shift, they would get off and go to a funeral, they would get off, go back to the station,” Smith said. “It was just a cycle. There were a lot of times you could see them with just a glazed look in their eyes. Everyone’s got to have a break.”

Smiths said it’s important to not only remember the victims, but also the thousands of brave firefighters, police officers, rescue squads and volunteers who were there at the time.

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