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20 years later: San Diego firefighters never forget 9/11 rescue mission at Ground Zero

SDFD Captain Moscoso and Flores share their memories
Captain Paul Moscoso 9/11 Ground Zero.jpeg
Posted at 9:23 PM, Sep 11, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- After the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, a group of first responders from San Diego went to New York to assist the FDNY. Twenty years later, they said the memories are still fresh in their minds.

Do you remember what you were doing as chaos and tragedy unfolded on the other side of the country?

"I was at work," San Diego Fire Captain Paul Moscoso said.

"I think 91X was the radio station I was listening to," San Diego Fire Captain Johnny Flores said.

Minutes later, the two firefighters turned on the television at their respective departments.

"The captain said, 'Hey everybody, get up. You're gonna want to see this," Moscoso remembered.

In 2001, Paul Moscoso was a firefighter at the Santee Fire Department. Days after the attacks on the Twin Towers, he was selected to be a part of FEMA's special task force to support local crews at Ground Zero. Also on the team was Johnny Flores with San Diego Fire.

"My captain is like, 'Johnny, have you ever been to New York?' and I'm all, "No." He's all, 'Well, you're going,'" Flores recalled.

After they landed, San Diego Task Force 8 walked into the city. First, there was dust, then some rubble. Then they reached what was left of the Twin Towers, what they called "The Pile."

"There's just there's a massive pile of metal that's twisted, steaming, smoking," Flores remembered.

The 80-person crew from San Diego was there to assist in the rescue mission. In 12 hour shifts, they searched above ground, below ground, through piles of steel, and off dangling buildings.

"It's an area that's as large as what Qualcomm Stadium used to be. You're searching an area that's that big," Moscoso said.

Moscoso remembers having to separate his emotions from the task at hand, desperately looking for any signs of life. Then, he stumbled upon FDNY Battalion 54's equipment scattered on the ground.

"Just finding all of the fire hose and equipment from one of the companies," Moscoso teared up. "The chief told me. He said, 'Look, we lost that whole battalion. That whole battalion is gone."

That very moment still haunts the crew, twenty years later.

"It doesn't matter, East Coast, West Coast, middle of the country, wherever it is. Firefighters are family with each other. So when that happens, you start thinking, this could've been one of my brothers or sisters," Moscoso said.

Within days, their assignment got amended to a recovery mission.

From providing hope, they were now tasked with providing families closure.

"I wouldn't say [we made a] dent because the size of that was so large, but I felt like we were making a difference," Flores said.

It was a difference they said they would never forget.

"For me, it's more of the remembrance of all of the people that passed. Their family members. All the firefighters, Port Authority, everybody that perished. That's the remembrance for me," Moscoso said. “I’m glad I was a part of it. I don’t ever want to be a part of anything like that ever again."

"Tragedy brings people together. It was that common bond that everybody had of pride and unity," Flores said.