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San Diego Search & Rescue fireman recounts being sent to Ground Zero after 9/11

9/11 was San Diego Fire Department Search & Rescue teams first full-scale deployment to a disaster area.

SAN DIEGO — On September 17th, 2001 Matt Nilsen a communications specialist for San Diego Fire found himself on a plane to New York City, with a goal of helping the city rebuild after the worst terrorist attack the country had ever seen.

"Going into this we were mentally prepared" Nilsen says "but the scale and scope of this...until you were there it was hard to imagine." Nilsen who is now a Battalion Chief was one of 70 San Diego firefighters who assisted in communications and search and rescue missions at Ground Zero.

"I was on top of the Western Union building on some scaffolding looking down into the pile at night," said Nilsen. "That's really when I got a feel that this isn't just a building or two, we were talking city blocks."

This was SDFD Search and Rescue team's first full scale deployment to a disaster area. Something Nilsen is proud of. "We were fortunate to be able to do something, because everyone wanted to do something. The fact that we had a job, that put us in the roll to do something, yeah it was an honor"

The task force continues to help around the country in disaster zones, the team had just returned from assisting local authorities during Hurricane Dorian.

RELATED: Here's a look back at how San Diego responded to 9/11

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