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Tuesday, May 21 2013 6:05 PM EDT2013-05-21 22:05:26 GMT
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DELRAY BEACH, FL (WFLX) - The Delray Beach Fire Department headquarters is filled with mementos from 9/11. Pictures of the rubble, sculptures of firefighters being carried by angels, NYFD helmets line the walls and showcases.
"I don't ever not want to be reminded of those great people I knew and those great friends," said Russell Accardi, assistant chief at the Delray Beach Fire Department.
He owns much of the memorabilia. He collected it because he lost seventeen friends that day.
In 2001, Accardi was a Delray Beach division chief. He'd had elite search and rescue training - much of it with New York's Bravest. It's how he developed friendships with so many.
That September morning, as a nation watched, he knew he'd be summoned to help on what became known to firefighters as, "The Pile".
On September 21, he was there. "The force of the buildings coming down did not leave a whole lot of concrete, it just went into the dust, a lot of the dust and the smoke," said Accardi.
He searched by hand for not only fellow firefighters, but his own friends. "In a bookstore, just opening magazines and stories about them. And that was when I just kind of lost it, and had my time alone of looking at the whole scope of everything I'd experienced," said Accardi.
His office is filled with some of the most precious mementos. Pictures and flags imprinted with the names line the walls. "Those kinds of sacrifices that have been made, makes us aware of what we owe," said Accardi.
Three hundred forty-three firefighters died on September 11. In total, 412 first responders lost their lives.