Remembering 9/11: Midstate K9s at Ground Zero

Remembering 9/11

(WHTM) — Not only were there human rescue heroes at the World Trade Center but K9 ones too from right here in the Midstate.

On September 11, Cumberland County’s John Gilkey knew something was wrong. “I was at work and I was an electrical engineer back then. I was walking through the office and everyone was staring at the TV. While I was watching, the second plane, hit the tower,” Gilkey said.

At that moment, Gilkey knew he needed to go. “When I was on my way home is when I actually got the page from the Task Force saying report to Harrisburg International Airport,” Gilkey said.

In 2001, Gilkey and his K9 were members of Pennsylvania’s Task Force One. About a year or so before that tragic September day, we did stories on their training at HACC’s old rubble pile. “My partner back then was Bear, a chocolate Labrador Retriever eight years old at the time. He was a very seasoned dog, I trusted him,” Gilkey said.

The bonded pair headed to the smoldering World Trade Center. “He was trained to find live people we had exposed him to cadaver. In the beginning days of the disaster, K9s were a sparse resource,” Gilkey said.

They spent eight days searching. “I cut the dog loose and next thing I know he’s barking by a buried fire engine. I started walking around the pile looking for things and here’s this firefighter who has not gotten word that he had to clear out. He crawled out from underneath the fire truck, he was a rescuer that didn’t get the word to climb out. He gave me two live alerts in the eight days we were there and then all of the cadaver finds, areas of interest for the cadaver,” Gilkey said.

“You spent 12 hours on the pile, an hour debriefing, an hour decon, washing the dog, cleaning yourself up and trying to get some sleep then back at it again,” Gilkey said.

CONTINUED COVERAGE: Each day leading up to September 11, we’ll share stories of the impact the event had and continues to have on our lives. Read more.

On this 20th anniversary of 9/11, “I think about the families of the people that were lost that day, there are children now that are 20 years old, graduated high school on to college, people that have missed their loved one for a very long time,” Gilkey said.

He also thinks about Bear. “He was a very tenacious dog,” Gilkey said. Bear passed away on September 7, 2003. The loss, still fresh. “He was… he was a very hard worker, he was my first dog,” Gilkey said.

But not his last, Gilkey has served as a handler for three more K9s. Gilkey has since become a member of Maryland’s Task Force One.

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