Indianapolis firefighters recall deployment to ground zero

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Mark Rapp was the team leader of Indiana Task Force 1 when the central Indiana firefighters and their partners pulled into lower Manhattan the day after the Twin Towers fell with a plan on how to attack the chaos that was ground zero seventeen years ago.

“We rounded the corner off Church St. and we just took our plans and just threw them away, because we were nowhere near prepared for what we saw. What we thought we were gonna do we weren’t gonna do because it was just a pile of debris.

“Fire trucks were still burning and pumping water. Completely burned to the ground, tires burned off of them, still pumping water.”

Indiana Task Force 1 had been together for less than a decade, staffed by firefighters, dog handlers and paramedics from various Marion County fire departments and working with borrowed gear.

The crew was a rarity in the United States, one of the few task forces certified by federal authorities, and its skills were urgently needed the day the planes flew into the World Trade Center.

Rapp said when the first of 72 Hoosiers arrived at the debris pile, traumatized and exhausted New York City firefighters were standoffish, assuming they were federal employees with no real world expertise.

“When I mentioned that we had dogs, we were golden,” said Rapp after he told the firefighters the INTF1 dogs were there to rescue their trapped comrades. “They were wanting to get those dogs starting to work…so we would run the dogs for twenty minutes. If they did not get what we call 'a hit' we would dig for the rest of that hour...so forty minutes of digging.”

Rapp said the Indiana dogs found no survivors, only the bodies of dead heroes.

“We were not allowed to touch any New York City firefighters that we found,” he said, recalling the way the NYFD crews would recover the bodies of rescuers trapped in the rubble and cover them with American flags.

For ten days, INTF1 worked 12-hour shifts around the clock, clearing the obliterated NYFD Station House 10 just blocks away which dispatched the first apparatus and personnel to the disaster.

Over the course of more than a week, Rapp breathed in the debris and chemicals he blames for his lung cancer diagnosis now.

“There was numerous chemicals, like 28 different chemicals we were subjected to. Unfortunately, a lot of the New York guys who got it there, I have the same cancer they have. Unfortunately, they have died from the cancer.

“You have to understand how noisy it was. So if you had a face piece on, it was muffled, so you had to take it down to talk to your commander, talk to your people, let them know that what we’re gonna do and then you put it back on as much as you could. Even inside the buildings, you could see the particles floating in the air.”

Retired now and knowing what he knows, Rapp said he still would’ve made the decision to go to New York City when America called.

“I loved that job. Loved it,” he said.

IFD Deputy Chief Tim Baughman was at Ground Zero in 2001.

He said Indiana Task Force 1’s presence helped heal Indianapolis and the nation.

“We came home to a different world,” he said. “We provide hope. Hope to our community that there is good in this world and there are good people and there are people out there ready to serve when necessary.

“The bigger mission was that we gave hope to a lot of people who were worried and afraid and had a lot of anxiety at the time.”