"The photographs you see aren't even close."
That's how Sedona Fire District Battalion Chief Dan Wills described the scene Thursday evening in a cellular phone call from Manhattan as he was walking toward Ground Zero from Chinatown.
"I'm walking down Broadway right now and it's as normal as you would expect New York to be," Wills said. "It changes as you get closer."
Wills was deployed to New York City as a member of the Southwest Interagency Incident Management Team to assist at the World Trade Center in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Wills is assigned to the logistics section as a communications unit leader. His primary responsibilities are to establish and maintain all types of communications equipment, as well as manage the Incident Communications Center.
"Every day the site changes," Wills said. "It's becoming more and more organized."
Wills’ most recent assignment prior to the World Trade Center site was at the 67,000-acre Moose Fire in Glacier National Park, Mont. He returned to Sedona four days before being called into his current role in New York City.
The 16-acres of rubble is much more impressive than a Montana wildfire in its level of devastation. Wills said he was also impressed with the job the clean-up crews are doing.
"It's really an unusual site. You've never seen such a thing in your life. Everybody's got a role in this. All the agencies are cooperating to the fullest extent," Wills said. "At this point it looks like a huge demolition. You're standing amongst these skyscrapers and then there is this place where they used to be. It's called 'The Pile.'"
Normal deployments with the Southwest Interagency Incident Management Team are for 14 days, however, those stays may be extended up to 21 days. Wills has been in Manhattan for seven days, working 14- to 15-hour days and resting to get ready and go back in to the fray.
"We know that if we keep people in a hazardous environment for too long it's just not good," Wills said. "I'm rotating in several different areas depending on what I am doing. It's certainly outside my experience but then it's outside everyone's experience."
He has spoken to rescue workers that are in Manhattan that were in Oklahoma City.
"They tell me the number four building (which still has half of its structure standing) is bigger now than (the Alfred P. Murrah Building) when it was intact," Wills said. "The scope of this thing far exceeds anybody's experience."
When he is with other firefighters, he is not alone. There is a strong sense of brotherhood among all firefighters. Wills is fortunate that two others from the Verde Valley are in New York with him — Denny Nelson and Dugger Hughes, a couple of U.S. Forest Service emergency service workers.
"Everybody is just busy. If you're here and involved you focus on your job," Wills said. "I think its best that people don't dwell on the enormity of this. You focus on your job and you just get it done."
There are images that will be locked forever in Wills' memory. They are somewhat scattered but intense memories just the same.
"The first time I saw this thing, I saw it from three blocks a way you just see this immense pile,"
One of his more unique memories has to do with the search and rescue dogs.
"There's a whole group of veterinarians here just to take care of the search dogs," Wills said. "The other day, I saw a New York police car roll into the area with lights and sirens going and the whole back seat was full of Purina Dog Chow."
Wills said everyone wants to do their part.
"There is a McDonald's trailer right outside of the area. You don't even need to walk over," Wills said. "There is somebody standing there to hand you a hamburger and a Coke and send you on your way."
And, Wills said, things are turning around.
"I've never spent anytime in New York but what a wonderful place," Wills said. "It's starting to regain some of its normalcy."
Well, as normal as a down that has become the center of the universe for a different reason than normal can be.
What will definitely stay embedded in his mind is the feeling of patriotism.
"Everybody here feels incredibly patriotic. You can't walk done the street without somebody handing you an American flag," Wills said. "Everybody in the Untied States is here. This isn't a local New York emergency. This is a United States emergency."