MICHIGAN CITY Ind. (CBS) — After seeing the tangled mess of cars and trucks on Interstate 94 on Thursday, many are saying it’s a miracle more people didn’t die.

That is thanks in large part to emergency personnel who worked tirelessly in the cold and snow to help those trapped in the wreckage.

The pileup included a total of 46 vehicles, and shut down 16 miles of the Northwest Indiana highway for 20 hours. Three people died and 21 others were injured.

CBS 2’s Mai Martinez talked to some of those rescue crew members from the Cool Spring Township volunteer fire department in Michigan City.

To the survivors, these firefighters are heroes, but they say they were just doing what they were trained to do.

Chief Mick Pawlik of the Coolspring Twp. Volunteer Fire Department will never forget Thursday’s massive pileup on I-94. Neither will his firefighters.

“It was mass chaos,” Pawlik said.

Drew Belue and Mike Frederick were among the first on the scene.

“There were so many vehicles; we couldn’t even get to some of the cars. They were pinched in between the semis,” Frederick said.

“It was semis everywhere. People were standing out of their cars, walking around,” Belue said.

They immediately called for more help.

Those who could, rushed over to the firefighters–one man pleading for them to help another man in a semi.

“He said, ‘This guy’s pretty bad, he’s bleeding to death,’ ” said Belue.

“We kind of made our assessment of the scene and went to the victims we thought needed help,” Frederick said.

At the same time they tried to reassure those who were less injured they’d be OK

“You tell them I’ll be back, and then you can see the fear in their eyes,” said Pawlik.

Chief Pawlik says as difficult as it was to walk away, they had to tend to those critically injured or more lives might have been lost.

And with each freed victim, there was a sigh of relief, but no time to savor it.

“We ain’t in it for the fame or the glory,” Pawlik said. “You get that one done and as much as I hate to say it you move onto the next one.”