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Firefighter from iconic Oklahoma City bombing photo retires; ‘It’s still tough to talk about’

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Memories come in all shapes and sizes. Chris Fields has a trunkfull, packed away from a 31-year career as an Oklahoma City firefighter. From fighting infernos to rescuing pets, Fields has done it all.

"You roll up and prepare yourself for what you're going to see," Fields says.

But nothing could have prepared Chris for April 19, 1995.

"I was at Fire Station Number 5 at N.W. 22nd and Broadway. I felt it. We were standing in the station around the kitchen. We heard the boom and felt the station rattle. We looked outside and saw the plume of smoke and self dispatched ourselves," Fields remembers.

Rolling up to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, they had no idea of the magnitude.

"The way that building is sheered off and stuff was still floating down, I can remember walking on glass," Fields continued. "I don't know when we were walking on pavement. It was just debris, glass, paper, all sorts of things."

His path crossed with an Oklahoma City police sergeant. A faithful moment was about to unfold.

"He said, 'I have a critical infant.' My mom said God's hand was in it because I said, 'I'll take her," the fire captain said.

As Chris cradled that baby, the father of two couldn't help but ache for a mother he did not know.

"I'm thinking, wow, somebody's world is about to turn upside down today. It's still tough to talk about. It's always worse when it involves a child. When you have kids, it affects you a little more," Fields said.

That child was the 1-year-old daughter of Aren Almon Kok.

"Somebody was about to find out they lost a child and that somebody was me. At the time, he didn't know but he still cared enough to know that somebody out there, their lives are about to change," she said.

That night, there was a call to Fire Station 5. Someone had captured that tender moment and this photo would become an international symbol for the bombing and a rallying cry for justice.

"I didn't even think about it that moment of holding Baylee until later that night. Everybody kind of, whew, you know," Fields said.

Captain Fields had no idea that indelible image would forever change his life. Today, it is a centerpiece of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum. For months, it was plastered on every magazine cover.

"It was very hard to go to stores because they are in the checkout aisle. It was always there. It was devastating. Everybody had seen my daughter dead. And that's all she became to them. She was a symbol. She was a the girl in the fireman's arms. But she was a real person and that got left behind," Almon Kok rememberd.

"I struggled with it for a long time. I didn't like being singled out. There were a lot of heroes that day. Everybody from people digging, bringing socks. It was crazy the response of the citizens," Fields said.

Like the federal building, life cratered around Chris.

"I didn't want to lay all that on my family and it built up until it all came in on me," he said.

Years of counseling for PTSD and a sturdy faith helped him conquer the demons of April 19th.

"I don't think I would be the husband and father I am today if it wasn't for the things I've gone through," he told NewsChannel 4 through tears.

And over the years, a beautiful relationship has blossomed.

"We came out of it with a good friendship and our families are close. I think if everyone would have had a Chris Fields then they would have made it through the bombing a lot easier, like I did," Almon Kok said.

After 31 years, Chris Fields is retiring to begin the next chapter.

"That's my plan to embrace life, treasure every minute. It's all roses from here," he said.

Memories come in all sizes. But for Chris Fields, It will always be the smallest that leaves the biggest imprint.