“You could see the fire from many miles away,” said Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack.
15 years ago, Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack, was a lieutenant, and a member of a special task force called DMORT, short for disaster mortuary operational response team. He had been activated within 24 hours of the 9/11 attacks and flew on a protected flight into New York.
“There was a heavy smell of fuel there was a lot of smoke a lot of electrical burns,” Sheriff Mack described of the scene upon arrival at ground zero.
Mack was initially overwhelmed by what he saw but was determined to get through the goals of his mission.
“What would happen and the way this would work is the crews were going into these different things and burrowing holes into the debris,” he described of machinery used to find missing people.
That rubble was often still smoldering,
“Once they had collapsed and they were burning it was a huge crematory.”
His team painstakingly combed through everything and worked nearly around the clock.
“The families needed closure they needed to know if their loved ones were alive or deceased, so it didn’t matter how small a fragment was. It was treated as a whole person because we knew that might be the one piece that gave that family closure.”
On a few occasions, he snapped photos, one fire station memorial he saw was covered with candles and flowers, simply unforgettable.
“Engine 16, this fire company lost over half of their firemen.”
In another photo, he showed News 5 a wall where people came to look for loved ones.
“People’s families would post, posters hundreds and thousands of missing person posters.”
At times he had to step back.
“There were times it would really get emotional particularly when they would bring out service members.”
Sheriff Mack stayed for 16 days. He looks back to his work with pride, but there’s one thought still makes him choke up.
“In America as this incident showed when things that happened to us that seemed they are the worst we become the best, and that day America became the best it could be.”
While some details are hard to talk about he’ll continue to share his stories because he hopes tomorrow’s youth will realize the scope of this tragedy.