From the archive: I-35W bridge collapse takes its toll on first responders

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FROM THE ARCHIVE: This story ran on Fox 9 Sept. 5, 2007, a little over one month after the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. The incident killed 13 and injured 145 more, leaving a lasting impression on all who saw it.

What we once called the 35W bridge will soon be gone, the jagged steel and concrete that once spanned the mighty Mississippi will be dissected, categorized and examined.

The fractured memories of that August day, however, will live on in the minds of those who were there to see the carnage of a rush hour in Minneapolis gone horribly wrong.

Fire Station 11 is just seven blocks away from the bridge, and its firefighters were on the scene in two minutes. Those first responders will perhaps be the last to forget what they saw that day.

"It was like something out of Hollywood," firefighter Chad Stencile said. "It was pure chaos - cars smashed, people crying, people trying to get me to go in every direction."

There are certain things they saw that day that only others who were there would understand. The firefighters and paramedics talk about them in hushed tones, huddled in back rooms at the precinct or station houses. 

First responders often have problems after traumatic events like the bridge collapse, such as alcoholism, family problems and even suicide. But the days of "toughing it out" are over.

While city departments are offering counseling, oftentimes the hardest part on the path to finding help is knowing that you need it in the first place.

Perhaps even more than the mystery of what caused the bridge to collapse is how heroes who arrive in uniforms are all too human once the disaster has passed.

"You knew that you were not going to be able to help everyone," Stencile said. "I do see the faces. I see the family members."

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