When the planes crashed and the World Trade Center towers fell on 9/11, firefighters rushed to help.
Among them was firefighter Kevin Miller.
Now a fire marshal with Charlotte Fire, Miller joined the New York City Fire Department in 1989.
"I remember one of the senior guys in the department said that this was going to be the most devastating thing I would see in my career, and he was right," Miller said. "There's nothing close to it. Not just because of the deaths involved, but because of the magnitude and how it changed
Everything, including the way fire departments look today."
When he was 23 years old, Miller joined the fire service because he felt it was a good career opportunity.
"I didn't really think about the dangers of the job," he said.
Miller had a perfect score on his entrance exam, went through the training academy and was assigned to NYC Fire Department company 82, ladder 31.
"I found the fire service intriguing. The camaraderie you get as a firefighter, you can't get in any other profession. It has molded me, and firefighters are my extended family," Miller said.
In August 2001, he was assigned to the NYC fire headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, and was on light duty because of an injury he sustained on the job.
A month later, on Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four airplanes and carried out attacks against targets in the United States.
Two of them slammed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, another into the west side of the Pentagon and a fourth — believed to be bound for the U.S. Capitol or White House — crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
When he arrived at headquarters that morning, he noticed some commotion.
"I remember someone saying, 'Hey, a commuter plane just crashed into one of the towers."
On the news, he watched the continual replays of the first plane striking the building. Then, the live news feed showed the second plane crashing into the other tower.
"It was a blur from there. The only thing I remember from that point on was the whole headquarters emptying out into a city bus and going across the bridge to get to the towers," he said.
It was a 15-minute drive on a city bus that they had commandeered. Working at the fire headquarters, most of those firefighters didn't have gear and were dressed in polo shirts and pants.
They stopped at the nearest fire station to suit up.
"Me and another off-duty firefighter just began walking down the west side highway towards ground zero, toward the towers. I saw guys a couple of blocks away covered in soot," he said.
Sometime between the first and second collapse, Miller saw office paper falling from the sky and pockets of firefighters in the streets.
"There was chaos, and we were trying to figure out what happened. Then I heard yelling: "Clear out! Get out! Move out of the way!" he said.
That was when the second tower fell.
A billowing cloud of dust, smoke and ash rushed toward him. Thankfully, Miller was far enough away that he wasn't in the collapse zone.
"Once the cloud of ash began to clear, you heard nothing. It was totally silent, so we started making our way back toward the collapse area. At that point, I was thinking about how to save people."
When he arrived at the site, he saw what he recalled as 11 stories of debris.
"There were bricks, dirt, plane parts that were piled like a mountain. All you can see is lines of firefighters on top of all this stuff and digging through piles and piles of rubble," Miller said.
As he dug through the day and into the night, he hadn't been able to tell his wife and two children, 10-year-old Elijah and 6-year-old Jeremiah, that he was alive.
It wasn't until the next morning, on Sept. 12, his wife's birthday, that he was able to call her and tell his family that he was safe.
For the next week, Miller would travel back to his firehouse to rest before going back to the site to continue rescue efforts.
"The toughest part was realizing that there were going to be more firefighters lost in the towers or that were near the collapse. It was hard to find hope," he said.
At the World Trade Center, 2,763 died after the two planes slammed into the twin towers. That figure includes 343 firefighters.
"What I saw was real heroism. Real heroism is knowing that you're afraid to go into these buildings that could collapse, but you still go," he said.
Miller left New York in July 2006, joined Charlotte Fire in November 2006 as a fire inspector and ultimately became Charlotte's fire marshal in 2021.
"Going through the trauma of 9/11 really put my life in perspective. Life is precious, and it can be taken away in a blink of an eye."
The World Trade Center memorial was opened on Sept. 11, 2011, a decade after the 9/11 attacks. Located on eight acres of the 16-acre World Trade Center complex, the 9/11 memorial is a place of remembrance.
It wasn't until last year that Miller would make the journey and find the strength to visit those hallowed grounds of the memorial. On his phone, Miller recorded a short video clip of one of the reflecting pools with waterfalls rushing down where the twin towers once rose to the sky.
"Those that sacrificed their lives, those that I know who were afraid but still did their jobs, those that were too tired to climb those stairs but did it anyway, their memory reminds me how precious life is."