MENO PARK -- A survivor and two retired Menlo Park firefighters who helped with the search and rescue efforts at Ground Zero reflected Sunday on the 21st anniversary of 9/11 and toll the terrorist attacks took.
Michael Hingson, who is blind, turned his story of survival into a New York Times bestselling book -- "Thunder Dog".
He and his guide dog Roselle walked down 78 flights of stairs that morning to safety after the attack on the Twin Towers.
"There were a lot of people on the stairs," Hingson recalled. "We walked down the stairs safely. We didn't run and we didn't dare panic. Because if we did, people would get trampled."
Hingson was working on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center when a plane crashed into the building. He and co-workers didn't know what was going on, but they knew they had to get out.
"There were a few other times that people started to panic and some of them would stop and have a group hug," Hingson said.
The former North Bay resident said through teamwork and trust, Roselle guided him safely out of the Tower about an hour later.
"We had no idea what really happened until both Towers fell and I was able to reach my wife by phone," Hingson said.
On the opposite side of the country, a group of Menlo Park firefighters were called to help with the search and rescue operations.
Frank Fraone and Harold Schapelhouman, both retired now, said they knew quickly it was more about recovery. The now retired Chief Schapelhouman used his camera and recorded the massive amount of debris they saw.
"It was like something out of the (movie) War of the Worlds," he told KPIX. "I mean multi-story steel structures collapsed, burned out, everything was destroyed. The smells of human decomposition, the smells of burning flesh, the smoke."
"We were able to find a lot of bodies, body parts, a lot of parts of the plane," said Fraone, who retired from Menlo Park as a division chief.
They got through the grim discoveries by focusing on the mission, which was closure for the victims' families.
Although all three men had different experiences with 9/11, on this 21st anniversary, they hope the nation will heal from recent years of deep political division.
"I want people to remember as much what happened after September 11 as what happened on the day, that is we became very unified as a nation," Hingson said.
"We need to remember this and not let it happen again," Fraone added. "We seem to forget things pretty quick."
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