Rochester, N.Y. - The second tower was crumbling when Paul Dondorfer arrived at Ground Zero on 9/11. He says no one could prepare for this kind of devastation.
He and fellow officers arrived on the scene hoping to rescue people, but instead, dug through rubble, recovering the bodies of those who did not survive.
He still gets emotional when talking about that day but remembers well the lessons it taught him about everyday heroes and the rewards of helping people.
Dondorfer has put those lessons to use many times since he moved back to Rochester and joined the RPD.
He was one of the first police officers who responded to the report of an officer shot in January of 2009. That officer, Anthony DiPonzio was gravely wounded.
Dondorfer and other officers knew the only way to save their comrade was to get him to the hospital in a squad car.
Dondorfer sat in the back seat, cradling DiPonzio's head and talking to him to keep him from closing his eyes. They made it and because of their heroics and the work of doctors, DiPonzio not only survived, but recently returned to work.
The two are now friends and marked the 9/11 Anniversary together at a Boston Red Sox game.
Dondorfer says fate has put him in the right place at the right time to help people like Anthony DiPonzio and more recently, two children injured when their stroller rolled into the canal.
He and his partner, Adam Alliet, were having lunch just around the corner when the call came in. There was no hesitation. They responded to the canal and found the boy being pulled from the water.
Dondorfer assisted a doctor to perform CPR on the boy, who was blue when he was removed from the water. He survived and is now doing well.
They also assisted in helping the boy's little sister, who was in the canal in the stroller. A medical student was in the water helping and the children's father was holding the stroller above his head, to save his daughter.
The child was in rough shape, but is now doing better. Dondorfer says those are all the rewards he needs for helping people. He gets emotional talking about being able to save someone's life.
On this 9/11 anniversary, he will also do something he does every year. He will make a special phone call to the two friends who called him after the terrorist attacks, just to make sure he was okay.
His voice shakes and he tears up at the mention of that day. Even though eleven years has passed, his memories are fresh and still very raw.