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Colorado team was at Ground Zero just after 9/11

Colorado Task Force 1 worked on cleaning the debris from the Twin Towers on 9/11. They got there just as the recovery operation was beginning.

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — At a warehouse in Lakewood, Colorado, Task Force 1 has gear packed and ready to go. 

As one of 28 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Teams in the country, they often have to leave to get to the scene of a disaster in hours. 

That's what happened 20 years ago after Sept. 11, 2001. Steve Aseltine was one of the 62 Coloradans who worked at Ground Zero.

He says it was an very dangerous place, but was also considered a memorial. The searchers took great care to honor the people who were lost.

Much of the video that came from Ground Zero was shot by a young FEMA Public Information Officer from Denver, Jim Chesnutt. 

Chesnutt was told to get to New York right away but commercial aircrafts had been grounded. He was preparing to drive when FEMA in Washington told him they got him a ride. 

Credit: FEMA

The New York Giants had played the Broncos in Denver the night before, and the owner of the team wanted permission to go back to New York. He ended up taking some FEMA workers with him. Chesnutt says when he got to the pile it was very emotional. 

"There would be families who would hand me a picture of their mom or dad and say 'when you go in there today will you try to find them?'" he said. 

Of the 62 Colorado Task Force 1 searchers working at Ground Zero, five have died in the past 2 decades. One died from work-related cancer, two died by suicide, and it's not clear yet if the other two deaths are related to the 9/11 attacks. 

Experts estimate more than 40,000 people working on the pile now have serious health conditions, including 10,000 who have cancers caused by the fumes and toxins.

Editors note: This story is part of 9NEWS' "Remember the Sky: 20 Years After 9/11" series, in which Gary Shapiro is examining the lasting impacts from the terrorist attacks on Coloradans. Watch the stories this week on Mile High Mornings or later at 9NEWS.COM.

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