Capt. Richard W. Alfes, a now 27-year veteran of the Naugatuck Fire Department, joined the Massachusetts Task Force 1 for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1996.
As a rescue specialist and squad leader, Alfes and his task force were called as soon as the second tower at the World Trade Center was hit on Sept. 11, 2001.
The task force the went down to what would be known as Ground Zero — a 14-acre “crime scene” in lower Manhattan where the remnants of the Twin Towers once stood.
Their task was to assist in search and rescue operations, in finding some of the 3,000 people missing. He described the scene as “pure chaos,” and said the scene reminded him of Gotham in the movie Batman.
When the team first got there, one of its earlier assignments to do water testing — something that confused and frustrated members of the task force, he said.
“With over 3,000 people missing, we were wondering why we’d go and take water samples down to the fifth sub level below Building 5,” Alfes said.
But the reason had to do with the infrastructure below the World Trade Center. If the foundation was cracked, and water was coming in from the Hudson River, then it could undermine some of the other nearby high rises and cause them to cave in within a few days, Alfes explained.
Water samples were needed to see if there was chlorine in the water. Fortunately, there was, meaning the foundation was stable, Alfes said.
The only piece of memorabilia Alfes said he had from the site were two pieces of a stone pyramid structure built near the towers.
Apart from serving on 9/11, Alfes has responded to a number of natural disasters and other major events in the past 15 years, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Ike in 2009 and the power plant explosion in Middletown in 2010.
Editor's Note: Capt. Richard Alfes provided all attached photos to this article. They were declassfied by FEMA and have clearance to be published. All are scenes from Sept. 11, 2001, during the rescue operations.