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Columbus Fire Lieutenant Looks Back On 9/11 Rescue Response

Firemen walk through a dust and debris covered street in lower Manhattan Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, after a terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. Two jet planes were crashed into the twin towers, collapsing them and covering the area with the debris.
Richard Cohen
/
AP
Firemen walk through a dust and debris covered street in lower Manhattan Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, after a terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. Two jet planes were crashed into the twin towers, collapsing them and covering the area with the debris.

Saturday marks 20 years since the 9/11 attacks. The collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York claimed thousands of lives and altered the course of American life. In the immediate aftermath, first responders from around the country flooded into the city to assist with search and rescue efforts, among them Craig Mignogno, part of Ohio Task Force 1.

Today, Mignogno is a lieutenant in the Columbus Division of Fire, working with the city’s five heavy rescue companies, and he still serves as part of Task Force 1 responding to crises or natural disasters.

“I’ve been a member of Ohio Task Force 1 since 1999 when the team first came online in the federal system,” Mignogno explains. “And there I’m a rescue squad officer, so when the team deploys I work with a squad of five rescue specialists.”

He says the morning of September 11, he was sleeping in after a long, late night shift as a paramedic. He recalls his dad calling to wake him, urging him to turn on the television.

“And I want to say by about the time I got to a TV shortly thereafter was when the first tower fell,” Mignogno says. “Back then it was pagers and a lot of phone calls started happening, to say hey the team is getting activated, we have to start making our way to Dayton. The morning got pretty hectic right off the get go.”

The team got moving quickly—arriving in New York before dawn the next day.

“The whole scene, it kind of crept up on you,” Mignogno recalls. “So you’re getting down there through lower Manhattan, you would get glimpses of the sight between other high rises as we got there.”

He describes how the team went to a forward staging area at a nearby bank. Once there, he says the enormity of what had happened hit him like a “slap in the face.”

“Crumpled up fire trucks, and just debris everywhere, all the piles of paper and everything that had blown out of the buildings,” he said. “It got real pretty quick.”

Twenty years removed, Mignogno said the abiding recollection he wants people to take from the attacks is respect for those who rushed forward to help those in the building.

“From the FDNY, from the NYPD from the port authority police, normal civilians that sacrificed that day to help each other out and help get injured people out of the danger zone,” he describes.

“You know,” he goes on, “everybody came together to work through that, and a lot of sacrifices were made, and a lot of people didn’t make it through it.”