(WSVN) - From the nation’s ground zero in New York City to Florida’s ground zero in Surfside, one South Florida firefighter has been a part of the devastating history of both. As the 9/11 anniversary approaches, 7’s Karen Hensel has this first responder’s unique story.
9/11 radio call: “Holy crap, the tower is going down! It’s going down! Get away from it! Get away from it!”
You could hear the desperation in the voices of police and firefighters that Tuesday morning in 2001.
9/11 radio call: “Get all the freaking cops away from the building. What’s wrong?”
Some of New York City’s bravest, who ran into and died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, had a tight bond with firefighters here in South Florida.
Battalion Chief Dave Carter, Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue: “We would go up there a couple of times a year, so a lot of friendships were forged with the [New York City Fire Department]. It was personal at 9 o’clock that morning, absolutely.”
Twenty years ago, Dave Carter was a young lieutenant with the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department. He went to New York City within days of the attack.
Battalion Chief Dave Carter: “You would spend hours filling buckets and handing them off and feel like you moved one pebble of sand off the beach.”
Digging not only for survivors but his friends, like New York City firefighter Lt. Dennis Mojica, whose body would later be found.
Battalion Chief Dave Carter: “He had been here a couple of weeks prior to that doing some training with the fire department, so it was kinda fresh in our minds that he was just here.”
Carter remembers seeing ground zero for the first time, not knowing yet he would lose close to 20 friends who were fellow firefighters.
Battalion Chief Dave Carter: “It was very hard, especially when you saw the magnitude and how big it was.”
In 2001, Lt. Dave Carter could not have known that 20 years later Battalion Chief Carter would again be searching rubble for survivors, this time here in his own backyard.
Surfside radio call: “The building is gone. It almost resembles the Trade Center.”
Battalion Chief Dave Carter: “Now having spent 18 days in Surfside, and that was a pretty big site, imagine that magnified 15 to 20 times. There were road blocks as you got closer to the pile. As we rode the buses into Surfside from Miami, that was the deja vu moment right away.”
Carter was deployed to Surfside as a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, Florida Task Force 2.
As he searched yet another pile…
Battalion Chief Dave Carter: “Now everything starts to come back of New York. Smoke because we had fires that were still burning when we got there, so you start to get some of those same smells, and then you see the building and the pancake collapse. One of the very close similarities to New York City was, everywhere we’d go there would be candles, or there would be somebody’s picture on a fence or a light pole or a building of somebody that was missing, same with Surfside.”
One of the faces on that wall was Stella, the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter. She was found nine days after the condo collapse.
Battalion Chief Dave Carter: “Our team forged quite a bond with Rescue 2 in FDNY because they found one of their members. We slowed down and made sure that they were the ones that came in and actually finished bringing their brother out. Now it feels like that whole thing is coming back, because one of our guys from the City of Miami, it’s his daughter, and we’re hoping that we find her to bring that closure to him, and we did. We were the ones that found her.”
Found her, but called over her father’s colleagues, Miami firefighters, to carry her body out.
Karen Hensel: “Eventually, the healing came after 9/11. Are we in that process with Surfside?”
Battalion Chief Dave Carter: “I want to correct you, because I don’t know that the healing is 100% there for 9/11. This is the 20th anniversary, and I think that’s going to stir up a lot of emotion.”
9/11 radio call: “We got a second tower collapse at this time.”
Tragedies separated by 20 years and more than 1,200 miles. For one South Florida firefighter who lived the aftermath of both, it is a time to reflect on almost unimaginable loss.
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