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Chicago Firefighters Share Raw Memories On Anniversary Of 9/11

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For some Chicago firefighters, even 17 years later, the memories of 9/11 are still raw. About 500 rescuers from Chicago headed to New York in the days, weeks, and months following the terror attack.

CBS 2's Mai Martinez sat down with three of the firefighters who shared their powerful, personal stories.

For Patrick Kehoe, Timothy Sampey, and John Giordano, the memory of 9/11 never fades.

"It still affects me, it really does," said Chief Patrick Kehoe.

"I remember like it was yesterday," stated Chief John Giordano. "It was a day exactly like today: clear skies, blue skies, temperature was similar. We're getting ready for our 0800 roll call which we do every morning, and of course, the news was on and somebody said 'hey, there was a plane that hit one of those towers in New York.'"

"I actually said, 'This looks like a terrorist attack,'" Kehoe recalled.

As the Chicago firefighters watched the tragedy unfold on TV, they knew they had to get to New York to help.

"All airlines were shut down. We still couldn't fly there," said Chief Timothy Sampey.

The three firemen, along with hundreds of other Chicago firefighters, drove the 12 hours to Ground Zero. It was only then that they realized the enormity of the situation.

"What you saw on TV wasn't even close to how bad it really was," said Kehoe.  "I couldn't believe it. I mean, it was just devastating. There was a stink to it that you're never going to forget and the stink got worse as the days went by. You could just walk for blocks and blocks and just devastation."

The devastation, recalled Giordano, was not limited to the buildings and cars.

"I'll never forget looking into peoples' eyes, them walking down the street, just a daze in their eyes," Giordano said. "You don't know how many people they lost or who they lost, but you could see it in everybody's eyes."

It was especially true for the city's first responders who worked around the clock, hoping to rescue anyone trapped in the rubble, including hundreds of the firefighters and police officers.

"You can hear the muffled sound of alarms going off underneath the rubble," said Sampey, vividly recalling two brothers – one a firefighter and one a police officer. "They're digging for their other brothers when their actual brother perished in one of the towers. That's some courage under fire."

Out of the sadness and tragedy, the men say they gained new friends, a new perspective on life, and a sense of duty to live for all those lost.

"When I hug my girls, my wife, it's something that I know some guys went to work that day and they don't get to do that and their kids don't get to do that," said Giordano.

The three firefighters say they volunteered all of their time. Tuesday at the firehouse, they shared their 9/11 stories with younger firefighters, including some who were only in kindergarten when the attack happened.

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