PROVO (ABC4 News) – 19 years after the September 11th attacks, it was a somber day of remembrance and reflection on the lives that were lost that terrible day and the lives of Utah firefighters that continue to be lost nearly two decades later.
A fire bell rang in honor of 9/11 victims at the dedication of Fire Station 22 in Provo Friday morning. Retired Unified Fire Authority Deputy Chief Mike Ulibarri and his Utah Task Force One team members saw the destruction with their own eyes when they arrived at a still-smoldering Ground Zero.
“It became painfully obvious that we were not there for rescue,” Deputy Chief Ulibarri told the crowd. “Our mission became recovery and the recovery of as much human remains as possible.”
Ulibarri and 61 other members of Task Force One spent several days recovering body parts, all the while breathing a toxic stew of decay, dust, chemicals, and asbestos.
Captain Mike Greensides of the Unified Fire Authority described the stench.
“I say it’s a combination of rotting meat, the most stinkiest garbage can you can ever imagine and a really stinky garbage fire is what it smells like,” Capt. Greensides said. “I’ll never forget that smell.”
40 of the 62 Task Force members have experienced severe health problems in the years since and two have died. Salt Lake City Fire Captain Robin Pilcher died of 9/11-related pancreatic cancer in 2016 and Unified Fire Authority Engineer Chris Cage died of small-cell lung cancer on August 29th.
“Six weeks from when he learned that he had cancer to when he passed away. Very rapid,” Capt. Greensides said. “We’ve had others who have had prostate, testicular cancer, another person has brain tumors going on. I myself have had kidney cancer. Last year on May 20th. I had my left tumor and a large tumor removed.”
Captain Greensides says he healthy now. So is Deputy Chief Ulibarri who told me he would volunteer for post-9/11 duty again, even knowing the risks.
“The job comes with hazards if you will and that was definitely one of them. Would I go again? Yeah,” he said, his voice quivering with emotion. “I guess it’s just that the service of not only risk-reward but honoring what took place.”
2,977 people were killed in the attacks on September 11th, 2001…health officials estimate that number will soon be surpassed by the deaths attributed to Ground Zero-related illnesses.