OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Oakland firefighters train for massive fires such as the one at the Ghost Ship warehouse. They also train to rescue people, but nothing could have prepared them emotionally for what they faced once they got inside.
"Everyone got affected by it. No one can see that and not be moved," said Oakland Battalion Chief Mark Hoffmann
Hoffmann helped coordinate the response to the fire and later the gruesome search for bodies inside.
He was also on duty during the East Bay Hills Firestorm and Loma Prieta Earthquake.
"I think I am in denial now. I will go through a period in a day or so where i will start to focus on how depressing this is," said Hoffmann.
Hoffmann said that while the fire was raging firefighters had trouble getting their hoses inside because of the maze of rooms and debris. They saw a stairway but couldn't get to the second floor.
"They put water on the stairs and the stairs would just burst back into flames," Hoffmann described the overall feeling after the fire was finally out.
"You give your heart and soul and find out you left people inside," he said.
Then came the recovery effort by firefighters and Alameda County Sheriff's deputies.
"The depth you were wading in was waste high with burnt and semi-burnt materials," he said.
Almost instantly he saw the nine bodies that were initially reported. It appeared they were overcome by smoke.
"It truly affected people emotionally. The families. I have kids the same age as the victims."
Hoffmann says the enormity of it hasn't hit him yet. But he knows from experience, it will. And it will affect the others.
The Oakland Fire Department says it is in the process of reaching out to every firefighter who fought the fire, especially those who went inside for the recovery.
The department is bringing in outside counselors.
"There's people internalizing this stuff on stuff we haven't even considered. That's why we need to get the people out there touching base with them and looking out for them," said Hoffmann.
The first responders will hopefully find a way to cope with what they saw this past week. But they are unlikely to ever forget it.