By Peter D'Oench

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Two first responders from South Florida, who were at Ground Zero 20 years ago after the terrorist attack, say they did everything they could while searching for survivors at the World Trade Center and say they are proud of everyone who tried to help.

Miami Beach Fire Chief Virgil Fernandez was leading a Task Force 2, Urban Search and Rescue team that was called up after the planes flew into the buildings and they collapsed. More than 2,600 people in the World Trade Center and on the ground lost their lives.

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Fernandez shared photographs showing him at the scene and with the Task Force 2 team. A total of 343 New York City firefighters and 71 law enforcement officers including 23 officers from the New York City Police Department lost their lives.

Fernandez told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “What we believed was that there was a tremendous chance we were going to find LIVE victims. We thought there were plenty of voids where there could be people trapped. We were there to rescue people and search and rescue and help those first responders on the scene already. We worked a shift from 7 at night to 7 in the morning and we did not find anyone alive. But it must be said that the recovery effort is very important to these families.”

Fernandez says getting his team to New York was a challenge. After they were called up they planned to fly out of the Homestead Air Reserve Base.

He said, “We were told there were no commercial airlines allowed to fly. We decided to drive up and rented rigs and put equipment in there and we started heading for New York. We also had to get past a tropical depression in Orlando.

Fernandez said he was impressed by the intense comrade rise. He says he won’t forget the image of actress Sigourney Weaver working tirelessly to help feed first responders and others in need.

“I remember seeing this tall woman who was not there for the cameras,” he said. “She was working in the middle of the night and she went there to help out and I was impressed by her. I think what happened brought out the best in people and it wasn’t just first responders. It was the schools, the clergy. It seemed like everyone we ran into was trying to help.”

Fernandez said, “I will also not forget people holding up signs and pointing at photos of their loved ones and telling us what floor they were on.”

He said he has been deeply affected by what happened.

“It affected the tire fire service,” he said. “We continue to stay up with the latest things on how people can get hurt. I guess one of the things that gets to me is that for some time police and firefighters were heroes. That was short-lived.”

Fernandez said, “I think sometimes we lose sight of the fact that everyday men and women put on a uniform and they kiss their families and they go to work and on the morning of September 11th when I went to work I never thought I would be responding to a terrorist attack like that at the end of the day.”

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Fernandez said, “We don’t know what is going to happen but sometimes we forget that these are individuals who have families and loved ones who worry about them. I try to be cognizant of the fact that every time one of our trucks rolls out there are people who love them a lot and I hope they make it back.”

Carlo Fargnoli, who is currently a detective in the Violent Crimes Unit with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, spent 20 years previously with the New York City Police Department and retired from there as a detective.

He was one of the many New York City police officers who responded to the World Trade Center after the planes flew into the buildings.

He said, “I have been through a lot of things n my life and what you see on TV does not scratch the surface. It is a profound sadness when you look at all the lives lost and the loved ones who kept coming up to us in the street handing out flyers and posting flyers and asking for help to find their loved ones.”

He also said there was a lot of unity around Ground Zero.

“Businesses were donating clothing and equipment and everything you can imagine,” he said.

He said, “It was so sad seeing the families of those who died. From a personal standpoint, I remember the digging, passing buckets and working in the morgue. We had special suits on and I remember seeing steam coming out of the ground. We knew everyone would get sick. We said we will all be dead in 20 years because our throats were burning every day. They were burning every day when we were down there.”

A recent report said that two out of three New York firefighters and EMTS who responded to the World Trade Center have had some kind of long-term illness. The report said nearly 16,000 New York City firefighters were exposed to dust, particulates, noxious gases, chemicals and fibers while working more than 10 months at the World Trade Center in the rescue and recovery effort.

He said, “Never forget who we are and the sacrifices we made. I

Just hope the 911 Foundation can help those who need it. The 911 Foundation has helped them so much and I pray it never runs dry.”

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Fargnoli said, “I worked with people there who would run to their death saving people they did not even know. We were heading there while people were running away. But I have to say this is the best job in the world. There is nothing else that I would rather do.”

Peter D'Oench