10 Days At Ground Zero

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...


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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Unfortunately, the number of missing firefighters is now up to 320. I express my disappointment to Freddy that we still have not located all the needed blueprints to aid the cause, especially the important ones. Typical of him and in that low-key voice of his, he calmly says, “Curtis, don’t worry, the drawings will show up. We’re going to get through this whole ordeal OK. We can’t let them win and we can’t lose any more men than we already have, so let’s be sure we do this thing by the book. Everyone needs to focus on safety.” I walk over to the planning area with Mike, thinking how fortunate we are to have a man like Freddy here.

The FEMA architectural and engineering guys show us a hot-off-the-press aerial photo of the scene on poster-sized paper. It is quite a sight, seeing for the first time a bird’s-eye view of the devastation. There they are, the walls of the towers laid out across the street in several different directions away from the site, some in 20- to 30-story chunks, still connected. For days, I’ve walked right over some of these sections amid debris and didn’t even know it. You knew from pieces of the walls being imbedded in the sides of nearby buildings that it had not “pancaked” all the way down, as the news footage led you to believe. Here is the final confirmation. We can now finally view the “big picture.” It is an amazing thing to see. They quickly roll an extra copy up for us to bring to the command post.

Mike and I are off again, heading in different directions, promising to meet at the tent around dark. The agents whisk me back down to the site, going around heavy traffic on the West Side Highway. As we approach the first of several checkpoints, we notice the crowds of people lining both sides of the street, signs waving, clapping and cheering as we pass by. The driver taps the siren in thanks and we continue on our way. Everyone feels good about having so much support from the public and it goes a long way in keeping morale up, believe me.

Our activities push the minutes into hours and the day quickly draws to a close. Mike doesn’t make it back to the tent until late, as he’s handling 20 assignments simultaneously. He walks up to me around midnight and with exhaustion on his face says, “I’ve got a few things left to do, then let’s head back to the hotel and get some rest.” This is a guy who pushed himself so hard at Oklahoma City that he passed out in the shower, splitting his head open in the process. You can’t help but wonder if the general population even knows people like Mike exist, always putting duty before himself and probably his family.

After conversing with Jeff (the OEM incident commander) and Chief Richardson one last time, I make my way back to the tent, dragging a bit. Mike strolls in right on cue. After wrapping up a few last details, we leave the scene for the hotel. It is around 1 A.M. and we talk about getting something to eat, our first meal since this morning. Midtown slowly seems to be coming back to life, albeit in a muted form. We meet in the lobby restaurant after getting cleaned up to wolf down a quick meal before calling it a day. We discuss the frustration of not getting any live hits again today and it bothers both of us.

Across the room, a small party is gathered at the bar, apparently ignorant of the tragedy still unfolding only a few miles away. With intermittent pictures and video of the disaster showing on all the TV screens around them and fresh in the minds of all who were touched by the event, the group carries on as if they don’t have a care in the world. One of them, a very large woman, laughs with a loud, thunderous and, I might add, abrasive cackle that cuts right through me. A cigarette dangles precariously from her unsteady fingers. The other hand clutches a drink. You almost feel compelled to walk over and slap every one of them silly. It is obvious they don’t know anyone who was killed or are missing in the attacks and are completely unfazed by the tragedy of it all. Their display of callous indifference and total lack of respect for what has happened disgusts me. Mike and I decide to get up and leave after being unable to tolerate their behavior any longer. It is easily noticeable that the other patrons around them are as peeved as we are, including the bartender, judging by the look on his face. They are oblivious to it all, or simply just don’t give a damn. We shake hands in the elevator lobby and agree to meet at 6:30. Mike says we need to get down there a bit early, as the President is coming to town.