Indiana Task Force 1 member recalls responding to 9/11

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Russ Shoaf was teaching a rescue class to a group of firefighters on Sept. 11, 2001.

One of them told him a plane had struck the World Trade Center.

“You guys will say anything to get out of class,” he joked.

Seven hours later, Shoaf shuffled onto a bus headed for New York. He’s a Westfield Fire deputy chief and one of 81 Indiana Task Force 1 members who responded to ground zero.

“It’s just like it happened yesterday,” Shoaf said. “We stepped off the bus and looked toward the rubble pile and saw where building seven was. We still saw the fires burning and still saw the people working. It was just overwhelming.”

The task force spent 11 days searching ground zero. Shoaf doesn’t always like to talk about what they saw, but he says he will never forget it.

“I try not to watch too many of the 9/11 programs on TV because it still brings back a lot of those memories. Those smells,” he said.

He’ll also never forget the bond Indiana Task Force 1 developed with New York’s first responders. FDNY said 343 of their firefighters died responding to the attack.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned, personally, since 9/11 is don’t take anything for granted,” Shoaf said.

Shoaf missed about six weeks of work with pneumonia shortly after returning from New York. His doctors, Shoaf said, told him it was directly related to his work at ground zero.