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First Responders Look Back on 9/11

Like many first responders, 9/11 stands out vividly for Jill Miller. She was one of the first paramedics to arrive at the crash site of what would soon be known as Flight 93.

“We came there to do a job. The hardest thing in the world is we couldn’t do that job,” she said, as she explained the devastation of the crash site.

“I had to have a new purpose, and my purpose was, at that point, is to do whatever I can for the people that now do have a very disheartening job.”

Jeff Shaffer, the chief of the Friedens volunteer fire company at the time, found himself in similar shoes when he was called to the crash site.

“We went there to help but there was no help that we could do,” he said, adding, “It wasn’t long though, the state police, and the FBI and everybody came rolling in, it seemed like instantly.”

“They just wanted all the firefighters there to make a perimeter around to keep on-lookers out of the way, keep everyone safe and stuff like that.”

It was in the days after that Shaffer put his carpentry skills to the test.

He was tasked with making a sieve so others could sift through the debris.

Some of what they found went to Jim Zangaglia, who was the chief deputy coroner for Cambria county at the time.

“My triage was to bag and tag HR, which would be human remains,” said Zangaglia.

When asked about the bodies he was tasked with recovering, he said “Not one body bag used. It was digits (finger tips). We were finding digits. We were finding pieces, parts.”

Between all their duties there was little to no time for Miller, Shaffer and Zangaglia to emotionally process what was going on. Those moments of reflection came at different times for all of them.

For Miller, it was several weeks later when she was on vacation with her husband.

“So, we went, kind of got settled in there, and that’s when it all came to fruition, I suppose, for me, had him there and he got me through it.”

For Shaffer, it was when he would get home and turn on the nightly news.

“I’d come home every night and have to watch the New York city firefighters digging through the rubble and everything, trying to find their own. There was 300 and some firefighters that lost their lives also. It hurts.”

Zangaglia recalled the exact moment the week’s emotions caught up with him, saying “When it really hit me was several days after the impact whenever they brought the family members up. All the machinery stopped. Everybody stood at attention,” adding “That’s when it really hit home, because I could put people to what we were finding.”

We asked Zangaglia, Miller and Shaffer what’s something they want everyone to know about that day. Zangaglia said, “To carry it on. To let the next generation know.” adding,

“It’s history. It should be taught.”

Shaffer said “To (remember) all the firefighters, police officers and whoever, plus the people who lost their lives, they should never be forgotten.”

Miller said “This (the Flight 93 memorial) is a place of honor. This is sacred ground. They are 40 heroes.”

“(They are) just wonderful people, that I believe the good lord put together that day to do what they did.”

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