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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Just as I made it back into the lobby, the radios crackle, “Evacuate! Evacuate!” Within seconds, guys pour into the lobby and out the front doors. I run up to Mike to determine what’s happening, when he says “Let’s go!” We both make a dash for the exit, along with everyone else, as thoughts race through my mind. Is a nearby building getting ready to fall on us? Have they found a bomb? Are we under attack again? I didn’t know I could run this fast, yet I barely keep up with the other guys. Thoughts of the last building collapsing Tuesday, still fresh in my memory, put me on edge.

Once we reach the street corner and slow to a trot, I turn to the guys and ask what was up with the urgent order to evacuate. I’m told that the building is coming down. I immediately state aloud that the building is perfectly sound and can’t be collapsing. I’ve looked the property over several times from day one and it was evident to me that other than missing a bunch of windows, the structural integrity was unquestionably secure. After quickly convincing everyone that we were in no danger, we restarted our heart rhythms and returned to the lobby to complete our assignment. It turns out that a police officer heard a creak and felt a shift on the floor he was searching, so he ordered the evacuation. I could understand his concern. Having been in the building many times, it does, indeed, move slightly in a stiff wind. It is designed to do so and it does even creak noticeably, but it is as solid as a rock structurally.

We soon complete the search, only to find out by a call to Larry (the owner representative) that it had been searched previously by the FDNY and National Guard. All the effort and stress for nothing. Oh well, a little excitement to add to the day, I suppose. I spend a few minutes petting the dogs before leaving with Mike to go back to the tent. Until now, I never fully realized how valuable these animals are. They certainly have my heartfelt appreciation for their talent and hard work from this point on. They are just as courageous as the rescue workers.

Mike discusses with me his ideas on the scene’s progress. The constant ballet of debris removal and construction equipment activity continues all around us. We pick up where we left off with the guys at the SOC tent, being told that despite several more probes into the pile below grade, there have still been no live hits. Before we know it, the day concludes with the last meeting of the night at the OEM post, reviewing the latest accomplishments of all the agencies involved. It is 2 A.M. and we leave the site for the hotel.

DAY 6. A bright, clear Sunday starts off with Mike and I arriving at the tent about 8 A.M. We are updated about the search teams’ findings from the night before. A subway train is still unaccounted for. We wonder aloud whether the occupants made it out alive, but the search continues nonetheless. The missing firefighter count remains the same as yesterday, finally stopping its ascent.

Mid-morning, my cell phone rings. It is a Port Authority employee and he has something for me – a full set of blueprints for the twin towers’ sub-levels! Finally! I ask where he is, write down the exact address, and tell him not to move and that federal agents are on the way to pick them up. I dash outside the tent and over to the agents. I give the address in New Jersey, with precise directions and they’re off. I advise the fire department and OEM command posts that the drawings will be at the site soon. In less than 45 minutes they return, prints in hand. We rush them into the tent and break them out on a table.

As they are unrolled, it is evident that they will be too complex and difficult to read for them to be of much use to the crews venturing below grade. An idea pops into my mind and I step out of the tent. Pulling out my phone, I call my vice president at his home in Virginia and tell him I need some people up here right away. Within an hour, three are on the way. Two are ex-fighter pilots and know how to work under pressure. By the end of the day, Jay, Bob and Chris arrive at the hotel, software in hand. I advise the OEM incident commander that we need office space and computers. Shortly after my request, my phone rings again. It is the owner of a local architectural firm, offering us use of their facilities first thing tomorrow morning. Finally, things are starting to come together.