On the morning of 9/11 my partner Bonnie and I were working in the FDNY EMS system for Flushing Hospital. We were dispatched to the WTC at approximately 8:54am. We were told over the NYC city-wide dispatch that a Cessna had crashed into one of the towers. While en route on the Long Island Expressway we were taking pictures of the WTC on fire. Traffic was a mess and we truly had no idea what was going on.
Upon arriving in Manhattan, we found ourselves lost without a map. Even though we both live within 50 miles of the city, we were no experts on where to go. I was still taking pictures at this time. We thought it was the coolest thing. (In EMS we are always looking for the big, high publicity jobs) That is until I looked up at these HUGE holes in both towers. I remember telling Bonnie “this is not cool, I want to go home. I don’t want to be here anymore.” So after wandering around (lights and sirens) we end up down by the South Street Seaport. The roads down there are very slimy with fish guts. Bonnie is swerving like a madwoman. I yelled at her about her driving when she informed me she was trying not to run over body parts in the street. Sure enough there were pieces of bodies and other stuff in the street.
We come up West ST and parked under the South Pedestrian Bridge in front of 1World Financial Center. We should have been a block up at West St/Liberty ST, but not having a map saved our lives. We were the first ambulance at that location, but other ambulances soon lined up behind us. I guess it was monkey see, monkey do. I just stood there watching people jump to their deaths. I can still close my eyes and see them. I will never forget that sound. It is still in my nightmares eight months later. An EMS lieutenant arrived at our location. Her name is Karen DeShore. All of us on that corner owe her our lives. She was GOD’s angel that day. She instructed me and Bonnie to go into the lobby of the South Tower to get a victim(they are not patients until we get to them.) I remember being in that lobby and seeing only rescue workers, no civilians. It still sticks out in my memory. Where was everybody?
We helped a lady with MS get herself, her friend and her wheelchair out. She wasn’t actually injured. I told her to get out of the area, but I can only hope she got to a safe area. Lt. DeShore the advised to get out of the street and on the grass in front of 1World Financial. Up until this point we had been standing in the street in front of the South Tower.
We see that one of our paramedic units is there with a student. We are all chitchatting. Waiting for something to do. Remember we didn’t have TV’s. We didn’t know about the Pentagon. We had FDNY radios and that was it. The public was better informed then us. I was arguing with Bonnie about going to the ambulance to get my cigarettes when we hear this sound. I was excited, I thought it was a F16 or something. I looked right(downtown) and then left. I saw the top of the South Tower sinking. Bonnie yanked my arm and I started to run. There is this huge building in front of me and I’m thinking ‘Why run? You can’t out run a mile high building.’ I ran towards what I though was a doorway. I jumped on the crowd of people. There was no door it was just a little alcove in a corner. I felt someone tackle me in the back and the world went black. I must have blacked out because the next thing I remember is banging on this window and it not breaking. I moved my shirt from my face and tried to take a breath. I couldn’t. It was weird because I didn’t panic. I just remember thinking: ‘I’m going to die this way. Suffocation is a horrible way to go. At least Mom and Dad will have a decent body to bury.’ It was all calm and matter of fact. Then I hear these three little pops and the window comes crashing down. A cop shot out the window. Everybody says he saved our lives. He probably did, but he probably couldn’t breath anymore either. So now we are breathing, throwing up and looking for our paramedics. We make it into a Au Bon Pan croissant store. I drank some orange juice and washed my face. People are now coming up to us and asking for help. We are still in uniform, but have zero equipment. I sent Bonnie into the walk in freezer for fresh air because she is a real bad asthmatic. I went out to the ambulances on the street for equipment. I bandaged up some people, but it was all walking wounded.
Me and bonnie finally left the store. We walked through the dust blizzard back to the front of 1 World Financial. We saw the pile, our battered ambulance and heard all the firemen’s PASS alarms. We walked away. We knew deep down the tragedy of the cemetery before us. We had no equipment, we were running on basic instinct. We were doing our best and I can’t second guess my choices from that day.
We found a MERV(FDNY EMS’ major catastrophe vehicle. It is a RV loaded with equipment,) We took the basics. At this point I start hearing this roar again. I looked towards the North Tower, but I knew what it was. We ran into the parking garage at Gateway Plaza. The dust/debris cloud came SLIGHTLY slower, but still left us in the dark. I still thank my mom for the Mini MagLight she had given me 5 days before.
We made our way out to the boardwalk. I broke into a ambulance to get more equipment. In a hour and a half we helped whoever we could with what we had. I think the worst I saw was a broken forearm on a fireman. I tried to cut his bunker coat off, but he wouldn’t let me. All he kept saying was he had to help his brothers. As a volunteer firefighter on Long Island, I understand ‘the brotherhood/family’ of the fire service and just let him go. Raging bulls couldn’t have stopped him. I though we would be there forever. After all, the two tallest buildings downtown had collapsed. What could be worse than that? Then we heard there was a gas leak downtown. A vision of myself being blown off of the southern tip of Manhattan was all I needed to realize it was time to go. Bonnie and I got on a NYPD boat going anywhere they were. We ended up in NJ. We were treated and released from Bayonne Medical Center. They were absolutely the best. I don’t think I could have been treated better than at one of the hospitals I work for.
When I got home all that was on the news was Cops and Firemen. I would NEVER EVER belittle their loss. Some of these men are my friends at work and best friends at home. What got me was 9 Paramedics and EMT’s died and they have not to date been honored. I have seen recognition ceremonies for rescue dogs!!! But not EMS. We are the ones who pick up injured cops; who stand by in ALL weather at fire scenes for the firemen in case they get hurt; we pick you up in the middle of the middle of the night, when you crash your car, when your children fall at home playing, when your parents and grandparents go into cardiac arrest. We are ALWAYS only a phone call away. I’m not asking for a pat on the back. I DID NOT do anything another human being wouldn’t have done in my shoes. We lost two FDNY Paramedics and 7 voluntary EMTs and Paramedics. See the FDNY cannot cover all of the five boroughs. So they contract out the hospitals to put ambulances into the FDNY system. That is what I do. I work for Flushing Hospital, BUT FDNY dispatches me. I give my signals to THEIR dispatchers, THEY get a copy of my paperwork, I call THEIR doctors for online medical control, THEIR patrol supervisors are in charge of my unit. I am ONLY a uniform and a different signature on my paycheck away from being a Fire Department of the City of New York Bureau of EMS employee. For instance Cornell Hospital, Cabrini Hospital, MetroCare ambulance. They lost their Paramedics and EMTs too. FDNY lists 343 firemen lost. The actual number is 341 firemen and TWO NYC PARAMEDICS. I only care because those are my brothers and sisters in service. If I had not been lucky. Who would have called my parents. What recognition would they have gotten for their daughter’s life and death? The same my fallen brothers and sisters have. NONE!! So please when you read this story: Don’t forget the EMTs and Paramedics lost!!!!!! Carry them in your heart. They are the angels in heaven watching over the next ambulance crew who comes when you call.