The following story is dedicated to all the rescuers killed at the World Trade Center incident on Sept. 11, 2001. This tragedy portrayed the sheer evil hidden in man’s darker side and, in turn, the heroes who rise above it all. (Note: Because this article was written five months after the event...
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After getting out of the shower and putting on the fresh clothes, I actually begin feeling good about going back down to the site and possibly helping to get someone out alive before time runs out. I quickly switch on the TV to get an updated weather report and see for the first time the video of the planes striking the towers. I stand there awestruck, not really believing what I am seeing, yet knowing it is all too real. It did happen. The towers collapse before my eyes, captured on tape for a worldwide audience. A few moments that will replayed a thousand times over during the next few days. I watch it two or three times before jumping back into work mode and switching over to the Weather Channel. Great, a storm is heading our way, with heavy rain and high winds tonight.
I kill the TV and dart back out the door. The local police precinct once again rises to the occasion and gives me a lift in a patrol car down to the site. As we approach the scene on West Street, hundreds of people lining the street clap and hold up signs saying “Thank You” and “We Support You,” offering us sandwiches and water as we reach the security checkpoint. This is also reminiscent of Frank and Johnnie’s funeral back in Chesapeake, with the outpouring of public sentiment and support in our time of need. Letting us all know that they appreciate our efforts and that our losses will not go unnoticed – and hopefully not forgotten.
It leaves me with a warm feeling inside as I make my way over to Chief Haring to give him the updated news on the weather. He’s still going strong. His kindly manner exudes confidence in those around him and he welcomes me with a warm smile. He fills me in on the latest and I head over to the SOC tent, as darkness slowly envelopes the site. I run into Mike, Bob and Steve, ideas swarming around in their heads, spilling out into their speech. Mike remembers a model of the Trade Center’s sub-level, made up for the 1993 bombing trial. It’s been in storage in a New Jersey warehouse and he orders it brought to the tent. Soon, a truck pulls up and backs into the staging area. Meanwhile, the National Guard pitches in and rapidly builds a large table to set the model on. The sounds of saws and hammers fill the air.
As we talk about the arrival and assignments of USAR teams from throughout the country arriving in the city to help out, the scene’s activity continues at an energized pace. An hour later, the truck’s hydraulic lift gently lowers the finely crafted model to the waiting arms of a dozen guardsmen, all under the watchful eye of Mike. The costly model is then transferred over to one of the tents and on to the newly constructed perch.
Everyone in the SOC and NYPD tents gathers around, staring intently at our new “three-dimensional blueprint.” Steve and Bob come up with some great suggestions on access problems, with Mike adding an innovative idea based on expected conditions at these levels. The stability of the “slurry wall” (the perimeter barrier wall encircling the base of the complex) is discussed, since reports are coming in of major flooding on Level B-6, the lowest level. With river water apparently pouring in from compromised PATH tunnels used by New Jersey commuter trains, tension mounts as we discuss the effects of the water on the foundation walls. If the walls were to fail or even shift, it could destabilize “the pile” and greatly endanger the rescue workers operating above and just below street level. Also raised is the issue of the effect of all the heavy construction machinery moving around directly above the walls as water pours into open spaces below.
Communication of this newly discovered danger is quickly relayed to the fire department, police department and OEM command posts. Steve heads off for another probe into the sub-levels, while Mike and I head down to walk around the site for an up-to-date visual assessment. Bob stays at the tent, formulating solutions to problems almost as fast as they can be raised. At the command post, Chief Tom Richardson is right on top of things, conversing with various engineers about the water’s threat, as well as possible dewatering solutions.