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July 10, 2021

Indiana responders and 9-11 tragedy: anniversary approaches

Tom Spalding (right), then the public safety reporter for The Indianapolis Star, interviews Indiana Task Force 1 member Dave Cook, now an Indianapolis Fire Department battalion chief, after a day at Ground Zero searching for survivors of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Photo by Mpozi Mshale Tolbert

Indianapolis firefighter Dave Cook (center), a structural specialist, works at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York City. Courtesy Dave CookAs we approach the 20th anniversary of the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks, this month marks another milestone involving Indiana Task Force 1, which was among 28 elite rescue teams dispatched to Ground Zero in New York City to search for survivors. Thirty years ago, in July 1991, Indiana Task Force 1 - which includes firefighters, emergency medical technicians, engineers, search-dog handlers and other highly trained specialists - was being formed to respond to catastrophic events.

Hoosier History Live will explore the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, when 62 professional rescuers from Indiana and their support crew arrived at the still-smoldering ruins. Some of the Indiana Task Force 1 members were among the first "boots on the ground" from across the country at Ground Zero after the suicide hijackings of airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center's 110-story towers.

To explore what unfolded - as well as earlier and subsequent missions of the Indiana responders since the formation of the task force - Nelson will be joined by two guests:

  • Tom Spalding, who was the public safety reporter for The Indianapolis Star when he accompanied the Indiana task force to Ground Zero for an "up-close and personal" look at their overwhelming mission. Tom, who left the Star in 2011 to become a public relations manager, is  working on a book that will include a chapter about Indiana Task Force 1's search efforts.
  • And Dave Cook, a battalion chief for the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD), who served a critical function with Indiana Task Force 1 at Ground Zero because of his expertise as a structural specialist. A Ball State University-educated architect as well as a firefighter, Chief Cook was a captain with the Washington Township Fire Department (before its merger with IFD) in September 2001. He joined the Indiana task force in 1995 and continues to be part of the professional rescue team.

Tom SpaldingAt Ground Zero, some of the Indiana Task Force 1 members arrived amid still-smoldering underground fires. Several of the Hoosiers barely escaped being "burned alive" when a 50-foot wall of fire shot up during an underground search for survivors, our guest Tom Spalding wrote in a subsequent account for Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, the Indiana Historical Society's magazine.

When the Indiana Task Force 1 rescuers returned to Indianapolis after their 10-day assignment at Ground Zero, they were greeted by a cheering crowd of 3,000 on Monument Circle. In downtown Indianapolis, a permanent memorial to the 9-11 victims was dedicated after the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

Earlier that month, Tom Spalding was one of the guests on Hoosier History Live for a show marking that milestone. Since then, Tom has visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum on the former site of the World Trade Center.

In addition to Indianapolis-based firefighters and emergency medical technicians, the Indiana Task Force 1 team members dispatched to Ground Zero included search dog handlers from South Bend, Fountaintown, Newburgh and Lebanon.

The beginnings of Indiana Task Force 1 can be traced to July 1991, a deadline posed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for teams across the country to submit applications to be part of the emergency response system.

During their mission in the aftermath of the 9-11 tragedy in New York, the Hoosier rescuers, along with Tom Spalding and other Indiana-based journalists, stayed in tents at the Javits Convention Center.

During our show, we will explore concerns about subsequent health problems experienced by some of the Hoosier rescuers. In sifting through the Ground Zero debris, they were exposed to fuel from the jets that struck the Twin Towers and other potentially toxic material.

"In the subsequent year, I thought the [Hoosier] task force members would become celebrities, but they did not," Tom wrote in his Traces account. "They simply returned to the old jobs they had left."

Last week, about 80 members of Indiana Task Force 1 traveled to Surfside, Fla., to help with search and rescue efforts after the collapse of a condominium building.

Although our guest Chief Cook is not among those deployed to the site of the tragedy in Florida, he has served as a structural specialist on more than 20 missions since he joined Indiana Task Force 1 in the 1990s. He is among only a few members who have been on the team since its earliest years.



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