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Fire fighters and rescue workers who risked their lives after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon have emerged as America's true heroes.
"Countless people are alive today thanks to their bravery," Deputy Fire Chief Gerald Marion of Englewood, N.J., one of the firemen involved in the Trade Center's search and rescue mission, told The ENQUIRER. "These courageous men and women have attempted daring rescues -- often at the sacrifice of their own lives."
Nearly 350 firemen and rescue workers were still missing days after the collapse of the twin towers.
But Marion declared: "Even those whose lives were lost when they rushed in to save others would do it over again in a heartbeat."
Priest dies giving last rites
FATHER MYCHAL JUDGE was a Franciscan priest -- but he was every inch a fireman.
The 68-year-old chaplain with the New York City Fire Department was doing his duty -- administering the last rites to a fire fighter who had been killed by a falling woman's body -- when he was struck on the head by a piece of falling debris and killed.
"His bravery was real because it came from loving other people," longtime friend Lois Hornbostel told The ENQUIRER.
It wasn't the priest's first encounter with disaster. When Trans World Airlines Flight 800 exploded off Long Island in 1996, he was on the scene comforting the living and giving last rites to the dying.
"He wasn't afraid to take chances on behalf of other people," said Hornbostel. "This time, he paid the ultimate price."
Man's best friend goes the extra mile to help
HERO DOG Servus had sniffed out two victims in the rubble of the World Trade Center when his own life was put on the line.
The 70-pound Belgian Malinois -- nicknamed "Wuss" -- wandered down into a hole lined with jagged debris, sniffing for bodies on the end of a 15-foot leash.
"He inhaled a lot of dust," his handler Chris Christensen said. "He tried to clear it by vomiting, but he couldn't. His tongue was turning purple."
Christensen gave the dog oxygen -- but Wuss went into shock.
"Two people grabbed a stretcher and helped carry my dog down the street."
Wuss got a ride to the hospital in a police squad car and spent six hours in ICU -- but he survived!
He needed a miracle -- and fire fighter delivered
PORT AUTHORITY Sergeant William Jimeno was dying -- and he knew it!
Trapped under tons of heavy concrete and steel, Jimeno could feel the oxygen being crushed out of him. With the superhuman strength of a man facing doom, he thrust his hand up through the rubble, wriggling past the glass and jagged rock . . . until he felt air against his palm!
Frantically he began waving his hand around, hoping against hope that someone would spot him in the pitch darkness of the World Trade Center basement. Fire fighter John Cleary of Ladder 24 in Manhattan spotted the movement in the dancing light of his flashlight beams.
He ran to clasp the hand and let the man beneath know that he had been found.
Cleary held on tight while other fire fighters dug away the rubble pinning in Jimeno.
And when he was freed and was being loaded into an ambulance, Jimeno gasped to his rescuers, "You all be careful!"
Countless trips to hell and back
EMERGENCY SERVICES driver Kevin Ernest was on the job at New York University Medical Center when the call came in that a jet had crashed into the World Trade Center.
"We thought they were kidding," he told The ENQUIRER. "Then we saw the smoke!"
Ernest and other EMS paramedics rushed to the scene.
"It was heartbreaking. There were people stopping us and begging for help, but we had to get to the worst cases."
Ernest found a man with severe burns. The hero driver made frantic turns left and right, dodging debris as he transported the victim to a hospital.
Then he headed back to the disaster site to pick up a man bleeding profusely.
His actions were repeated throughout the day, without a break -- a trip into hell, then into the hospital . . . and back again.