BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — 20 years after the September 11th attacks, firefighters from Kern County remember the day they stepped up to serve the nation. Three local heroes saw the devastation firsthand … flying to the Pentagon and putting their lives on the line to save others. Nick Dunn, Dean Clayson, and Bob Lechtreck had no idea they would fly to the nation’s capital after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Lechtreck was fighting a fire in Northern California when it happened.
“I was working up there, and I’d been up there for 10 days on this fire,” said Lechtreck, a retired Battallion Chief with the Kern County Fire Dept. “By the time I was finally finding out what was going on, I got a phone call from my boss back in Kern County. ‘Get your gear, tell that fire you’re leaving. Because the team is being activated and we’re going East.'”
Moses: Dean Clayson and Nick Dunn were just arriving to work.
“Headed into the office, turned on the Mark and Brian radio show, KLOS, and they weren’t being silly,” said Clayson, a retired Operation Chief with the Bakersfield Fire Dept. “They were talking very seriously, about some planes into the twin towers.”
“Horrific day,” said Dunn, a retired Kern County Fire Chief. “My wife was a teacher at the time, I had to pull her out of class and tell her I was going. I had to see my children. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
What happened next changed their lives. The team flew from Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento.
“Then we flew to Albequerque and picked up another team,” said Lechtreck. “That’s about the time we realized someone said they’re going to New York, and we’re going to the Pentagon.”
“In retrospect, because of all of the health problems that have happened with the first responders in the World Trade Center, we were fortunate at a very unfortunate time to go to the Pentagon,” said Dunn.
The team says their private jet was one of the only non-military planes in the air around the country. But they didn’t fly alone.
“We’re flying in, and we’re gonna land in Baltimore. And we have fighter jets on our wing-tips. Everyone broke into a big cheer. ‘Oh boy, we have fighter jets!'” said Dunn. “Then everyone thought, ‘well they’re there because if this plane deviates, we’re going to be shot out of the sky.'”
The firefighters were assigned to an incident command team.
“Our job was to support the FEMA rescue task forces,” said Clayson.
“As soon as you get the call you start doing the logistics. You start thinking, ‘what are we going to do when we hit the ground?’ said Lechtreck. “‘If there are no planes in the sky, how are we going to get supplies to them? How are we going to take care of this?”
The first responders saw the Pentagon at dawn, the morning after the attacks that left over 180 dead.
“There’s a huge hole. You can see something has penetrated the pentagon,” said Dunn. “So you stand in awe and look at it. There’s still smoke, there’s still fire.”
“We flew over the Pentagon,” said Lechtreck. “We were able to look down from the plane and see smoke coming up. The second time we saw the Pentagon was up close. It was devastation, unbelievable devastation unlike anything I’d ever seen before.”
Their valiant efforts to save lives through the rubble will not be forgotten.
“Just the loss of life. As a fireman you go on a lot of calls and you see a lot of trauma, a lot of death,” said Clayson. “But just the scale.”
“Still to this day, I think about it and I still start shaking. Or I get chills, thinking exactly what had happened,” said Dunn.
TV-17 wants to thank our brave first responders.