VIRGINIA, MN -- Allen Lewis, Fire Chief in the City of Virginia, is recalling his own experience with the September 11, 2001 terror attacks as the anniversary approaches.
Lewis, who was working at a fire department in Oregon at the time of the attacks, was one of the first people to help in the direct aftermath.
"[I] got activated and I responded along with the Red Cross Disaster Action Team and was at New York, the Ground Zero site, for approximately a week," said Lewis.
Lewis said he was on one of the first flights to New York directly after the attack, and he said even before they arrived in New York City, the air was heavy with grief.
"On the flight out it was very very somber. I'll never forget how little chatter there was."
Lewis arrived in New York just a few days after the collapse of the towers and helped aid some of the individuals most directly impacted by the event.
"I worked at a site just outside Ground Zero, and my job as a medic there was to treat the burns, the injuries to the eyes, and these were brother and sister firefighters who were looking for their counterparts," said Lewis.
The 9/11 attacks killed 412 first responders, a sacrifice millions across the nation will acknowledge on the 20th anniversary this weekend.
Virginia will be holding its own 9/11 commemoration Saturday, which Lewis plans to attend.
Lewis said the aftermath of the attack was a stark reminder of the fact that, despite the many differences present in America, the nation can be united.
"We're Americans first and foremost, we help each other, and we don't leave each other behind."