My Nextel keyed up at about 9am on 9/11. It was my friend Matt. Knowing full well that I was exhausted, having just returned the day before from a 5-day ride for AIDS research across part of the US and Canada, I couldn’t figure out exactly why he was calling so damn early. He kept repeating that it was important and I had to wake up, so eventually I rolled over and answered him. “Put on the TV, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”, he was yelling. I did and was shocked to find that I had no reception (my house still had an antenna on the roof). Channel 4 sort-of came in and I could make out a scrambled image of one of the twin towers engulfed in flames. I told my mother what happend, kissed her goodbye and ran out the door to my volunteer ambulance squad (because they had cable). On my way there the second plane hit the second tower…finally arriving I found two other people there watching as everything unfolded before us. I asked if we had been called to stand-by yet. I live on Long Island, just 30 miles from Manhattan, and I knew some volunteer departments were already being called to various staging areas in Queens. They told me no but that Nassau County Medical Center, where I worked, was sending our ambulance division. I called my boss, he told me were were sending units and to get there “fast”. I flew back home, grabbed my uniform, kissed my mother again – left my girlfriend a message, and was out the door. The first tower collapsed. I arrived at work about 15 minutes later and we were mobilizing, fueling, and stocking the trucks to go. Our boss made up 3-man assignments and we were off. It was 10:15 am. I called my mother and told her I was on my way…she was hysterical and therefore I was getting emotional. She told me it was, “all in God’s hands now” and we hung up.
The second tower collapsed.
I was busy on the phone coordinating our resources with a liason we had with the city’s OEM and relayed the messages to our other units. The parkway was packed, so in an effort to expidite our response, took a back route to the city through Far Rockaway. Our liason informed me that they were short on bottled water at the scene, so we stopped at a Waldbaum’s supermarket on the way down. They gave us about 50 cases of water and told us, “get out of here, and good luck” to an ovation by the employees and customers. The roads were eerily quiet. The NYPD had every road and bridge to the city blocked for emergency vehicles only, in fact those were the ONLY things on the road. Coming up the BQE, running alongside the city it looked like all of downtown was on fire. People were still streaming across the Brooklyn Bridge out of the city. It couldn’t really be happening, but it was. We arrived at the “South triage sector” at the Staten Island Ferry at about 11am. Dozens of ambulances from all over the city staged there. Almost immediately being given an injured FDNY Paramedic who we transported to Saint Vincents Hospital. There must have been hundreds of doctors, nurses, volunteers, and bystanders at the hospital…with no patients. People ran up to us and handed us bottles of water and sandwiches. Photographers took pictures and tried to get a glimpse of what we were bringing in. Upon leaving, I was advised two of our units were relocated to a foward triage at One Liberty Plaza. My unit and a unit that accompanied us to the hospital were redirected to Vessy and West Streets on the NorthWest corner of the WTC complex.
At about 130pm we relocated to Chambers and Vessy Streets where the new Command Post had been established as we awaited the collapse of 7 WTC. It did and we were moved again, the various EMS units with us dispersed to various locations. We met up with our other units at One Liberty. It was my first real glimpse of the total destruction and the thought of that moment sends chills up my spine. It was 9pm. It was very dark, the major structures of 4, 5, and 6 WTC had been mostly extinguished but there were tons of small fires in the rubble and a lot of smoke in the air. A Burger King across from what used to be the South Tower had been converted into use by police and “NYPD TEMP HQ” was spray-painted all over the sides. Brooks Brothers Clothers in the lobby of One Liberty was turned into a temporary morgue and stretchers, IV, and trauma supplies were lined up throughout the remainder of the lobby. The “FIRE” alarm was blaring and flashing, hoses were run to standpipes through the broken windows and they lay all over the ground. The building was deemed ‘unsafe’ later that night and they removed all non-FDNY EMS units.
We went back to the ‘South Triage Sector’ and were released around 2am, being told by a somber FDNY LT. “they’re not finding anyone else tonight, go home”. I kept giving my mother updates throughout the day and around 4am when I finally returned home, she was still up waiting for me. I slept for a few hours and returned the next day with my volunteer rescue squad, to stage at the makeshift hospital they had now set up at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. They used a variety of units that were there to supplement the 9-1-1 system and sent them to calls for help recieved downtown, where access was limited, unrelated to the incident. We were deployed again to the staging area at One Liberty Plaza to assist a firefigher in seizures, but by the time we arrived he had already been transported. We assisted at the triage flushing eyes and helping in the morgue until we were relieved about 11pm that night. September 13th-14th I returned again. This time on my own with two fellow volunteers from Long Island. I took the chance to take in the full scene walking all around the site. We entered subways and adjacent stores and buildings to satisfy our own morbidy curiosity, in between participating in triage efforts and joining the now famous, bucket brigades removing debris bucket by bucket.
There was an unbelievable sence of comradery amongst the various people and departments that were there. We were all there for one reason and we knew it. From the firefighters being lowered into voids to the people who gave us clean, dry socks and food…we were all there together. It was the saving grace amidst all the detruction and horror and the smell, the unescapable smell, that was around us. At around 7 or 8am we were overwhelmed and had to leave, I watched the city shrink as we drove away, the smoke rising from where the WTC used to be against the backdrop of the sunny morning is an image that will never leave my mind.