Local fire chief looks back on his service during 9/11

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PITTSBURG, Kans. — Saturday marks 20 years since the Twin Towers were hit.

And not a day goes by where one local fire chief doesn’t think about the tragic event that took place.

“This is 20 years now and I can still, still remember things that I saw,” said Dennis Reilly, Pittsburg Fire Chief.

September 11, 2001 started out as just another day for Dennis Reilly. At the time he was the Cherry Hill New Jersey Fire Department Battalion Chief and a member of the New Jersey State Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.

Then at 9:02 A.M. The South Tower was hit by United Airlines Flight 175… And Reilly headed out.

“By the time we made it to Lakehurst, got everyone assemble, got them on the busses, the New Jersey turnpike had been totally shut down,” said Reilly.

Turning a drive that normally takes more than an hour to make, into a thirty minute trip for Reilly and his squad — they would drive into total darkness.

“When we got close to ground zero, that was it, we didn’t see the sun for several days, because the smoke and the debris and the dust just hung in the air and blocked out the sunlight,” said Reilly.

With the hopes of finding life in the wreckage dwindling day by day, Reilly says their goal became returning bodies to their loved ones.

“As we recovered deceased victims, an element that runs through our mind is at least we can return somebody to their family,” said Reilly.

While we can never forget the number of lives lost, Chief Reilly says it’s also important to remember all the lives that were saved.

“To an extent I can say, you know, as many uniformed people who were killed that day, we can’t overlook the fact that it was the most successful rescue operation in Modern history,” said Reilly.

Now, 20 years later, remembering everything that happened as though it was 10 minutes ago, Reilly sees it as a defining moment in his career.

“These are things that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and I have no regrets. I don’t want anyone to have any sympathy for me, or whatever, I did my job,” said Reilly.

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