Jacksonville hazmat team witnessed Pentagon & World Trade Center 2 weeks after 9/11

JFRD firefighter, Charles Moreland, sat down with Action News Jax Dani Bozzini in an exclusive interview about his experience and the lessons learned.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — 20 years ago, seven local firefighters answered the call. A specialized Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department hazmat team witnessed the Pentagon and World Trade Center just weeks after the collapse.

One of those firefighters, Charles Moreland, sat down with Action News Jax Dani Bozzini in an exclusive interview about his experience and the lessons learned.

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Moreland explains, “It’s hard for me to say it, but it’s so true…I could smell death in the air…the dust, it looked like a movie scene.”

He has been a firefighter since he was 18. When he hears a call for help, he answers it.

“Lauren Mock, who was the chief of operation, said ‘Hey would you like to go to 9/11 to go to the World Trade Center and to go to the Pentagon?’”

In 2001, Moreland was in his early 20s. He had been training for this moment at Station 7 for a couple of years, specializing in hazardous material incidents.

“It was very clear with everything that was going on, nobody knew what the role we were going to play, whether we were going to be involved with the actual operation, whether we were going to just be there as an observation team,” explains Moreland.

And that’s exactly what he and six others from JFRD were tasked with. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw in New York.

“It didn’t look real…it didn’t look real to me and that was emotional and tough.”

Moreland explains, “Immediately after being in the hot zone, we weren’t there long…they found another body and everything came to a halt. Everybody that was walking, all the equipment that was being utilized, anybody that was talking…everything got quiet while they were honoring the life that was lost from the Trade Center collapse.”

In that moment Moreland realized how precious life is.

“They made you just realize how fragile life is, you know, even though I was just a young man at the time it’s still made me recognize how, number one, dangerous our jobs are as firefighters but more importantly how fragile life is every day.”

That realization was life-changing, that tomorrow isn’t promised.

“Those individuals that went to work at the Trade Center went to work just like they did every other day,”

just like those first responders, firefighters, police and medics who lost their lives when the towers collapsed.

It made his bond with his colleagues even stronger.

“You never know what the situation is going to be and whether you were going to make it back, you don’t know and that’s one of the situations that they encountered at 9/11.”

The first responders and volunteers who survived that dark day continue to face hardship today in the form of health problems.

“Once those towers fell, it looked like about 400 tons of asbestos and other hazardous material was sent out into the atmosphere,” explains Action News Jax Medical Expert Dr. Michelle Aquino.

She explains those health problems includes cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 43,000 people are reported to have a 9/11-related health issue.

“The individuals that have worked in the environment who have lost their lives over the years never forget them because they got cancers and all the different health-related problems. Never forget them, never forget them.”

Years later, Moreland would become battalion chief of rescue for JFRD and now works in the mayor’s office as the director of community and international affairs.

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Not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about his experience twenty years ago: the people who lost their lives, their families and the countless others who answered the call.

“Never forget those sacrifices that those individuals made to make it better 20 years later. It’s because of them we’re better 20 years later. They made the ultimate sacrifice and we never want to forget that.”