Anthony Fischetti was on the Jackie Robinson Parkway in Brooklyn when he saw the second plane strike the Twin Towers.
That night, the Bay Shore substance abuse counselor became a volunteer, helping others dig for survivors on 9/11.
Fischetti, 46, later joined the bucket brigade, bringing food and water to rescue workers and carrying out chunks of rubble.
"I stayed for five days and did what everyone asked me to do," he said. "When I got to the site, it was a horror. We slept on the pile, but the adrenaline ran so much that I didn't sleep."
Survivors and family members paid tribute to the army of rescue workers Wednesday night in ceremonies at the 9/11 Memorial marking the 10th anniversary of the end of cleanup operations at the World Trade Center site.
Police and firefighters who survived the terrorist attacks were also recognized.
Retired NYPD Officer Carl Bartolotti returned to Ground Zero Wednesday night for the first time since helping sift through the mountain of rubble.
"It's in the blood," said Bartolotti, 64, of Middletown, N.J. "When you're a first responder, you just show up when something like this happens."
During Wednesday night's ceremony, a line of first responders walked down the pathway to the memorial as a choir performed. They took turns meeting Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
A small crowd that had gathered outside the memorial cheered the rescue workers.
First responders have been defined as those who received the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor presented by President George W. Bush in September 2005. A plaque at the memorial includes more than 150 Long Islanders with the New York City Fire Department, New York Police Department, and Port Authority and Emergency Management who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Nearly 500 Long Islanders were among the total death toll on Sept. 11. There were 2,753 people killed at the World Trade Center, including airplane passengers. Only 1,630 victims have been identified to date.
Many other first responders and recovery workers suffered illnesses and other health problems from working at Ground Zero.
In the nine months after the attacks, NYPD and Port Authority police, FDNY firefighters and recovery workers removed 1.8 millions tons of debris from Ground Zero.
The city commemorated the end of the cleanup on May 30, 2002, two days after the last column of the towers was cut down and removed.
Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty surveyed the names on the memorial Wednesday night, recognizing a few people he knew who died in the attacks. He said he had not returned to Ground Zero until now.
"The men and women who came down here worked long and hard hours," Doherty said. "The conditions for these men and women were unreal."