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For Jefferson City Fire Chief Matthew Schofield, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks remain with him.

By early afternoon on the 11th, he and the rest of the Missouri Task Force One — an urban search and rescue team based in Boone County — left for New York.

"Twenty years is a significant length of time, and there are moments when it's hard to recall specific details of that deployment," Schofield said. "But then, random triggers cause memories to rush back; typically, a casual conversation or a photograph, sometimes the smell of metal burning or concrete dust."

The team worked 15-16 hours daily for nine days.

Mostly, he said, they did body recovery and tried to give people closure. After the first day and a half, there was no chance for live rescues.

The team also helped clear debris, some of it still smoldering, while trying to avoid dust, heat and further structure collapse.

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Schofield returned home with knowledge he implements to this day.

"There have been countless observations, anecdotes and lessons learned from that experience," Schofield said.

One of the most important ones, he said, is to avoid being too comfortable and focus on being prepared.

"Overall, I remember the need to be prepared in all aspects of life: physically, mentally and, above all, spiritually," he said. "From a faith-mental aspect, I strive to never again get too comfortable and have a failure of the imagination. As a nation, how many times have we said that we failed to 'connect the dots?' That is a metaphor for all of us in life."

The best part of his experience, Schofield said, was coming home to the "overwhelming support we received from the entire Mid-Missouri community.

"This country was galvanized in unity; we all miss that. The team was the very best in the state, and I formed lifelong friendships with those that deployed to Ground Zero. I am tremendously blessed to serve with some of the most talented public safety professionals anywhere, every day here in Jefferson City."

The fire service will always be connected to 9/11, Schofield said, because of the hundreds of service members who died in the tragedy.

"As an industry, fire service members believe their occupation is more than a job. It's a calling and way of life for those of us who have the privilege to serve our community in this way," he said. "We honor the legacy of those we lost by carrying on their work. Their ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty still inspires me today."

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