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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9-11-01


On a beautiful sunny, blue sky Tuesday morning six years ago today, New York City and Washington DC were attacked by terrorists because both cities are world wide symbols of what is great about the United States of America. Immediately after the attack there was a national unity of purpose and resolve to punish those who committed these acts and insure that such attacks would never happen again. Unfortunately, that national unity has not existed for a very long time though it is not my purpose here to engage in an endless dialogue debating the reason for the change.

What I would like to do is share two email messages I received from a friend who was that morning, and still is, a volunteer fireman in Nassau County. He relates what it was like on the World Trade Center pile right after the attack. I am sorry for the length of the post and the disturbing video above, but think it is important to remember what it was like only six years ago today. Below are the email messages. Friday, September 14, 2001:

I hope that you and your families are all OK. If you know any of ourfriends who are injured or missing, please let me know.

I had the radio on at work, and heard about the first crash right after it happened, and we followed it throughout the morning. When the first tower collapsed, I left work, and reported in at the fire department. The City called on the Nassau departments around noon. We were asked to set up a staging area at Belmont Race Track. By the time we got there from Syosset, there were well over 100 engines and trucks there ahead of us. Most of them were being detailed to City firehouses in Brooklyn and Queens, to cover for those companies as they were called into Manhattan.

Syosset has a confined space rescue unit and a collapse rescue unit, as well as a heavy rescue truck (which I'm assigned to), so we were called directly in to the scene. The staging area was around the federal courthouse. From about this point onward, you had to wear a dust mask. The fallout from the collapse was horrendous - a fine, white, powdery dust, together with a heavy smoke condition. As you moved south and got nearer to the Trade Center, the air got darker and heavier. Within a couple of blocks of the Trade Center, it was so dark, you couldn't tell if the Sun was still out.

At first they set us up near City Hall. They were unable to move heavy equipment to the scene because there were fire hoses running across town from the east side to the Trade Center. Our collapse rescue unit is a large panel truck which carries lumber and tools, so we were put to work building ramps over the hoses running across Broadway at Ann Street, Fulton Street, John Street, Maiden Lane and Liberty Street.

Once we reached Liberty Street and secured the hoses there, we were sent down Liberty and were set up at the corner of Liberty and Church, just opposite the spot where 4 World Trade Center had been, by the entrance to 1 Liberty Plaza. All that was left of the building 4 was a portion of the easterly wall, which was broken into shards, and was pitched over Church Street at about a 20 degree angle. All up and down Church Street were the blasted hulks of the trucks and engines from the first responding units. The crews, of course, were all gone. We found out the next day that the
building we were set up under, where the triage unit and food was set up, was deemed to be in danger of collapse, and was evacuated.

There was nothing we could at the collapse site itself. There were still fires burning, and the smoke and dust made it impossible to get far into the rubble. We concentrated on getting a crane set up, and on clearing a plaza across the street, so that debris could be dumped there as clearing began.

The mood was pretty grim. Usually at large fire scenes, the firemen will engage in gross and macabre humor regarding the victims - it's a method of dealing with it - but there was none of that here. Notwithstanding the trucks, bulldozers, cranes, etc. the place was eerily quiet. There was one small humerous incident. At about midnight, I was sitting on the back ofour truck, with my back to the scene. Suddenly, guys were running past me - cops, firemen, construction workers, medics - at least 50 people, running like their lives depended on it. I jumped off the truck and looked back, but couldn't see what the hell they were running from, so I grabbed a firemen and asked him why he was running. He says "Because everyone else is!" A pretty good answer. What had happened was some facing had fallen off the building across the street, and they were afraid that there would be another collpse. It didn't (so far).

We got into the rubble at about 2:00 am, after the wind shifted, and visibility improved. All you could see was steel, concrete, paper and dust. Everything else was pulverized or crushed beyond recognition. There was one exception - office waste paper cans were everywhere. I guess that their lightweight construction caused them to be blown out the windows, and they sailed down slowly, and landed on top. The paper was everywhere in the rubble, and in the blocks around. It was unsettling to see letterheads,memos, etc, from firms whose names you recognize. Our search was entirely fruitless. We found no survivors, or signs that there might be any. I believe that there must be some people still alive in there, but I can't
imagine how anyone is going to get at them. You can not imagine the size of this disaster without seeing it. It's disheartening to work for two hours at moving this stuff, and ten to look around and see how insignificant your effort is.

Our relief crew arrived at 4 am. It's just as well. After breathing this crap in and working all night, we were pretty bushed, and they were looking to get us out of the debris so that the crane could start working anyway.

It's still impossible to grasp the enormity of this catastrophe. There is no retaliation we can take against these people that's ever going to provide a real sense of satisfaction for me personally. It's a fucking waste. It makes me ill to think what people will do when they believe that they have some kind of religious mandate. I hope that ultimately, there will be some kind of victory for common sense and reason from all of this, but historical precedent does not suggest that this will be the case.

At any rate, I hope again that you are all well, and that we can rebuild from this lunacy. Take care of yourselves.
And this on Saturday, September 15 ,2001:

Hey, Bros!It's funny, the emotional gyrations this business puts you through. Theinitial shock, disbelief, anger, disgust are all too much to process effectively. At Topaz we simply stayed at our desks, trying to work while listening to the radio. It was difficult to get any substantial amount of work effectively accomplished, but we felt the need to keep going because it's essential that we all continue to do our jobs. We continued to do what we're paid to do as well as we could because we understood that this was now the priority of the moment and was the best way that we could contribute tothe national well-being. When I came back to work on Thursday, a co-worker said that she was surprised that I stayed at work as long as I did. Of course, it had never occurred to me that the City would call on the volunteer departments until the first tower collapsed.

The emotional gyrations we went through at the scene were greater by orders of magnitude. There was an inescapable exhilaration that comes from being part of a colossal and historic undertaking; and from being right at the center of it all; from being a trained rescue worker with a defined mission. There was a counterbalancing guilt that this exhilaration on our part coming on the heels of the deaths of hundreds of our brothers who were doing the same job.

There was an immediate sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when we were able to open up Broadway to emergency vehicles and construction equipment simply because we had arrived with a truckful of lumber. This feeling gave way at the end of the night when we actually got to attack the pile of debris. The staggering, indescribable size of this task made our efforts and abilities seem insignificant. As we began to move the stuff, I attempted to do the mental arithmetic concerning the value of my own efforts, but the realization of the insignificance of my own efforts was too depressing to face. I felt like one ant in a colony of ants trying to move
a mountain. So I stopped thinking about it and just kept going.

Afterwards, it occurs to me that the reason that ants are successful is that they just keep going. If you stomp on an anthill, the ants simply clear the corpses and debris out of the way and go on about their business. The colony survives - and prospers - regardless of the assault. We humans don't like to think of ourselves as insignificant parts of a greater whole, but this is how we must view ourselves in a time of crisis. We are always important to ourselves and to our families and friends, but when there's real work to do, you have to stop feeling sorry for yourself, you have to stop being afraid for your own safety and your own well-being and you have
to do your job, regardless of its relative significance to the overall task.

We all have an opportunity to be heroes now, and the method is simple. Show up at your job when you're supposed to. Do your job to the best of your ability. If you were planning to fly somewhere next week - do so! Don't start selling off stock in a panic. Don't start hoarding goods and commodities. Understand that the actual damage inflicted is insignificant in terms of our gross national product. This will only be an economic disaster if we panic. Finally, do not call on the president with demands
for immediate and pointless retaliation. Let him do his job while we do ours.
Keep in touch.
That's all.

9 comments :

Carl said...

Thank you for sharing the contemporaneous insight. While I agree with the poster on one of the other pieces, that it is time to heal and move on, it is neverl time to forget all the unknown unsung folks in this City who pitched in as bet they could to assist others, particularly those first responders.

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