The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, shortly after the April 19, 1995, terrorist attack that killed 168 people. (Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Flickr)

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Twenty-five years ago, firefighters from California were dispatched to Oklahoma City to respond to one of the deadliest domestic terrorist attacks in U.S. history. Instead of flying back this year to commemorate the 168 lives lost, the group mourned virtually during an ongoing pandemic.

Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman was one of the emergency responders at the scene that day. He said four of the original team are currently working at the Menlo Park Fire District, and leaving town is out of the question during the COVID-19 emergency.

The Menlo Park memorial to the Oklahoma City bombing is located at the fire district’s training center near the Dumbarton Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Menlo Park Fire Protection District)

He and others returned to Oklahoma City one year after the attack, and a large group had been planning to return for the 25th anniversary this past Sunday. He said he misses the Oklahoma locals, who treated the first responders with great kindness during their response to the April 19, 1995, truck bombing that killed 19 children and left nearly 700 people with injuries.

“After the World Trade Center Collapse Deployment on 9-11-01, a number of us were being interviewed and the reporter said, ‘I’ll bet this was the worst disaster you’ve ever responded to,’” Schapelhouman said in a statement.

“About five of us who had responded to both events said ‘no, it was the Oklahoma City Bombing.’ I remember thinking that only I had felt that way. As we talked about it, we all realized how much it had affected us and changed our lives,” he said.

The largest bombing remembrance memorial outside of Oklahoma City is located at the fire district’s training center near the Dumbarton Bridge, according to the department. It contains columns and granite slab from the Alfred P. Murrah Building, the location of the 1995 attack, and flowers and flags were placed at the site last weekend.

“Twenty five years later and with a global pandemic going on, resilience, mental toughness, perspective and a healthy balance and appreciation of how good life has been and still is, despite significant hurdles I’ve had to personally overcome, due to a humbling and major life changing injury, helps me navigate most challenges with courage, a deep appreciation to be in this moment, and not fear or dread, that I see so many people struggling with right now,” Schapelhouman said.