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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As I walk down to West Street, a man approaches me at the check point. He’s a civilian, claiming he has the most high-tech camera and listening device equipment in the world. He says he works for a defense contractor and has been stuck two blocks away with his gear for two days, unable to get through to the right people. I escort him through the checkpoint and over to the ID area. After getting his credentials taken care of, we walk over to the tent and I introduce him to the guys. They advise the incident commander of this latest resource and right away he is put to work, along with his “toys.” Night closes in. Before I realize it, midnight passes. It’s back to the hotel for some rest. I check in with my people and we agree to meet in the lobby, bright and early.
DAY 7. At 7 A.M., Mike, Bob, Chris, Jay and I greet each other. Introductions are made and Mike is off to a meeting. The agents arrive to take me to the site and my people to their new “home away from home” for the next few days, drawings in hand. They jump right into the fray and pump out floor plans in rapid fashion. They work in a building only a few blocks away from the scene, with windows overlooking the site on the 41st floor. They can’t believe what they see – or don’t see anymore. Like the acidic haze which fills the air in lower Manhattan, the sight continually attacks the senses.
The color-coded graphics take about four hours to do per floor. They are combination floor plans and USAR grids, displaying all the support columns on each level. They are assigned eight floor plans to do, the Plaza and Concourse Levels and all sub-grade floors, B1 through B6. When the call comes, the agents rush me over to pick them up and it’s off to a printer in midtown, where 50 copies of each are duplicated in color. Several sets are then dropped off at the Javits Center for the USAR teams, with the rest brought back downtown for the fire, police, OEM and SOC command posts. Three floors are produced the first day. They call it a night 14 hours after they began. Mike and I stay at the site late again, finishing up around 2 o’clock.
DAY 8. The weather continues to hold and things go just as they did the day before. Running around, floor plans getting pumped out, everyone working hard. Still no rescues or signs of life. Admittedly, it starts to wear on me. I feel my energy draining away. The adrenaline is beginning to fade, as common sense tells me we are clearly edging into a recovery operation. Other than three more floors being completed by my people, I remember very little of this day.
DAY 9. Another busy day and the last two floor plans are completed. The agents once again are instrumental in getting them to the command posts. Walking around the site, I am astonished that there have been no fatalities since the first day. A constantly high level of activity has encompassed the area. Monstrous cranes and heavy earthmoving equipment backing up, pulling away debris from the remains of buildings, along with lighter-grade machinery dashing back and forth should have dictated at least a few serious mishaps. However, good fortune abounds, along with a lot of attention to safety by everyone involved.
With fatigue taking its toll, it is surprising no lives have been lost, especially considering the additional risk of unstable window panes and even steel structural members hanging off the facades of surrounding buildings. The ironworkers who walk up to the site and volunteer their expertise, along with all the other skilled laborers who have been coming from the first day on, have proven invaluable. Along with everyone else, they are risking their lives performing highly dangerous work. Their collective contribution has not gone unnoticed and is proving an inspiration to us all.
Coming back up West Street, I pass another contingent of FDNY firefighters returning from a 12-hour shift on “the pile.” Fatigue shows on their faces. The remains of an entire engine company have been found in one area of where a stairwell once stood and I hear the chief calling for multiple body bags over a radio as they walk by. I feel for them and what they must be going through. I am both honored and humbled to even be in the presence of men of this caliber.
DAY 10. I face my last day of work at the site. The remaining two floor plans will be completed today. Hope is clearly diminishing and I am getting depressed. The adrenaline is gone. Harsh reality has taken over. Even though it hasn’t been spoken, we have eased from a rescue into a recovery operation, although it is still officially labeled a “rescue effort.” I am exhausted and must get back to my job and the responsibilities that go with owning a business. Although I feel like I am disappointing the guys I worked with so closely during these most trying of times, life must go on.