Everything Changed: One Year After, Part Two

Continued from Everything Changed: One Year Later, Part One in this forum/

I only got about 2 ½ hours of sleep. After such an agitating day, I couldn’t fall asleep well and kept waking up. It might have been because I was asleep in a 6 year old kid’s bed with many Beanie Babies around, but I tend to think it was the day’s events. We were up at 5, and out by 5:40. We got our man at the Hilton, and had the taxi take us right down to the Piers. We got stopped at the edge of the Piers complex by a Special Forces Ranger. I showed him my badge, and he waved us through. Once again, it came in handy.

They said they’d had about 200 patients through during the night, ALL of whom were Fire fighters and Police and EMS workers of various ilks. No survivors were coming out at all. The few that were found that first day were, of course, taken to St. Vincent’s because it’s a Level 1 Trauma Center.  Almost nobody was speaking out the obvious- we were staffed and prepped for a huge influx of survivors and by the next morning, we knew we weren’t going to see any because virtually all of them were dead.

I stayed with my team for a few hours, and helped out with the supply table people next door to us. Doing that is what got me down to the Hot Zone ultimately. At about 9am, a woman was walking around with a Fire Department turnout coat on. No helmet, and no turnout gear UNDER the coat. Still she seemed to know the stuff she wanted and so we helped her out. She asked if we had a bag or backpack she could use because she “ had to go back down into the Hot Zone, and wanted her hands free”. 

I figured that she was going to see more difficult action than I was, and so I took my oxygen tank out of it’s long padded bag and gave the bag to her. I wrote my name on a scrap of cardboard and shoved it into the bag in the hopes I’d get it back. I doubt I will, considering what happened.

She asked if we wanted to go downtown too, and of course Omar and I jumped at that chance. I took out all of the Basic Life Support supplies I carry in my jump bag, and Omar and I loaded it up with saline solution, bandages, I.V. kits and other stuff he wanted to have nearby. This woman, who for now I’ll call The Liar, gathered quite the little crew of people together. This felt a bit like Freelancing to me, but I was game as long as we were permitted to go and coordinators had a place for us. As it turned out , neither was the case. She got us all outside and onto a city bus- many had been commandeered.  We were then taken OFF that bus, because it was needed for something else. We stood around, waiting and looking at her for direction. She was the one who was posing herself as being in charge and she did an admirable job of acting the part. 

She got us down to the southern edge of the Piers and told a Coordinator that we were going down to the Hot Zone and needed transport. He asked by whose orders ( a great question to ask....). She said, “ I was there yesterday with FEMA, and have Search and Rescue (S&R)  experts with me”. I knew that was a lie, we were all medical. The man looked dubious, but tried to get us all into an ambulance. We all got in. THEN, some other coordinator opened up the ambulance doors before we left, and asked who we were and who asked for us down there. She tried to run the same story- by this time, I was really becoming suspicious. Then, she pointed to me as she spoke to this new guy and said, “ this guys’s an S&R expert, we’re all going down there”. That’s when I had enough, I took my bag and walked out the back of the ambulance with Omar.  Everyone else piled out, and we walked back towards the Pier. Clearly, this wasn’t a sanctioned group. The Liar was furious, and said she wanted us to wait. No doing. 

I got back inside, really angry at the stunt this stranger had pulled. Whoever she was, she was using the general chaos of the situation to try to gain access down into the Hot Zone and get close to Ground Zero. It was awful. Then I realized that she STILL had MY O2 bag. I walked outside, and found her SURROUNDED by new people, including one or two Army personnel. She was on a cel phone, looking very busy and talking quietly. One man asked if she was cleared to take people in, and she just threw him an exasperated look and said, “ You go ask FEMA !!”. Clearly she’d realized that if she used FEMA’s name, most people would blink and leave her alone. I waited till she was off of her cel phone, and walked right up to her, and said, “ who are you?”. She said, “ I’m Diane”, and gave me this huge smile. I repeated my question, and she knew damned well what I was doing. I said, Who ARE you?????  She asked me what I meant, and I told her I wanted to know if she was FDNY or not- hell, she was wearing SOMEBODY’S turnout coat.  She very quietly said no, she wasn’t FDNY.. I then said, “ then who are you and whose coat is this?? “. She said defensively, “ I”m an EMT”. I asked her where and she answered California. I about lost it. I stopped short of getting an NYPD officer to come and “pull her card”- demand her E.M.T. ID Card. 

Omar wasn’t there, but when we got off the bus a few minutes earlier, he’d opined that she was a reporter and not medical at all. I had two choices, I could challenge her right there on the sidewalk and demand to see her Department of Health ID card, or walk away.  I was so angry at her charade that I almost did it, but I figured that I’m not in the law enforcement business and so I left. I also figured that in the greater scheme of things, if she was caught out while down there in the Hot Zone, the supplies that she’d been lugging around in MY O2 bag would ultimately be taken by someone else who would actually be grateful to have them in their hands. So, I let the bag go.  At least the tank and regulator that Monroe EMS gave to me went to a bona fide Medical Doctor.  I just walked away from her. It wasn’t my place to have that fight with someone, although if she was indeed a reporter and not just a VERY hopped up and eager EMT, she’d wind up arrested at some point for what she was doing.

I went back inside and stayed at my station for a while.  At some point, around noon, a coordinator got a group of Surgeons , Nurses and EMT’s together and asked if we wanted to go down to the Zone. Unlike Diane’s charade, this was for real. They needed Medical teams down there, and at South Ferry. The Staten Island Ferry terminal had been commandeered when this first happened, for ambulance drop-offs and Triage. ( Once I got to the Ferry, I learned that the first few victims were actually taken BY Ferry over to Staten Island to hospitals ). Our group was taken by bus into the Warm Zone, and let off there. We were walked down the West Side Highway, and issued respirators. Not just the paper dust masks, but proper OSHA-approved  rubber masks with one-way inhale valves. We kept walking, and I could taste the smoke through the filter. 

A row of cars drove by us, each with one dog inside of it and no other person besides the driver. It must have been a contingent of the corpse dogs being brought in. Very chilling to look at. A few minutes later, we got to the corner of Vesey and West Side Highway. A fire truck drove by us. It had obviously been very close to the blast. The front window was GONE, all the windows were gone and the truck and all inside areas were thickly coated with the grayish white dust and muck that had become the normal landscape. The roof had dust flying off as it sped by. It was fully crewed- it seemed to me that the crew needed to use ever bit of equipment, and since it must have been in working order aside from the damaged windows, they were still riding it.

As we were all walking, the lady leading us remarked, “ I sure hope there’s no Press in with this group, hiding”. Those of us who heard her remarked on the folly of such an idea. I saw a man at the back of our group, with a camera, snapping away. He had a respirator on, but no I.D. and no supplies that indicated what or who he was. I walked back up to the lady leading us, and said, “You mean a member of the Press like that guy??”. Now, I’d have confronted him myself I was so pissed off that someone would scam their way in like that, and TAKE a respirator that was needed by a worker, but I thought that knowing my luck, I’d ask who he was and find myself escorted out of the area because I’d given an FBI photographer, or an ATF photographer a hard time. Better to let the coordinator taking us in ask that question. She looked at the guy who was stopped, and snapping away.

Now, this woman was about 5 feet tall if that, and built like a barrel. She walked over to the nearest Special Forces Ranger, and grabbed the shoulder of his uniform. It was so deafeningly loud in the street that calling out to him would have been largely a waste of time. She tugged instead, and got the response she wanted. He turned FAST and looked alarmed. She yelled, “ See that guy with the camera??? He’s not with us, and doesn’t belong here. Can you deal with that”. The Ranger didn’t even answer, he just gestured to a partner and they both walked up to the man, and took the camera out of his hands and hurled it into the air. They then grabbed him under his arms, and lifted him off the ground and simply walked him away, and out of the Hot Zone. I’ve no idea if he was arrested or not.

There were a lot of volunteers walking around, even in the Hot Zone. While I doubted the wisdom of having untrained people in there, all they were doing was dispensing endless cases of water bottles and donuts and sandwiches and fruit. The only reason I say this is because of the collapses. Firefighters have a very efficient system of accounting for each other, they use number tags and a central gathering point.  The people walking around were unaccounted for. If a building or piece of immense- and I do mean IMMENSE- masonry or metal collapsed and buried or killed them, nobody would know they were there or who they were. I just wish that part of it was better organized, especially by Day 2.

We got to the block that borders the WTC and across the street, the World Financial Center ( which, as of this writing on 9-14-01, has cracks in it that may cause it to be demolished soon ). We stood around, awaiting escort to an area where we could set up and treat either survivors or rescue workers who were injured. There were many such injuries and still are. It’s raining this morning, first rainfall since the attack and I’ve no doubt but that there will be MANY more injuries today and tomorrow as a result. The thick layer of grayish-white dust from the explosions and collapse covers every surface. It was this blizzard of dust. I’ve no doubt but that as Omar and I made our way south, walking down the street, that same thick layer covered body parts as well. I just never saw any.

We milled around, and found ourselves not well directed and yet RIGHT THERE at the Ground Zero site. Omar thought that it was ludicrous, and wanted to go to South Ferry right then. I agreed, and we walked away from the group and headed through the World Financial Center building, and out the south side of it. We walked a block south, then headed back over to the West Side highway, and stood looking at the wreckage. Unlike the incident earlier, this didn’t feel like Freelancing at all. We’d been told by the coordinator that people WERE needed at South Ferry. We decided to be those people.

There were drifts of papers everywhere. Computer disks. File folders. I saw many that were charred all along their edges, looking like they’d been in a thick pile that had burned just around the edge. I almost took a sheet of burned paper with me, but for some reason it felt like that was an awful thing to do, no less think about. I know that in a few days or a week, that paper will be shoveled and picked up with backhoes and dumped. But at that time, walking through, it seemed somehow really disrespectful to take a trophy of having been there that was burned. So, I left it all alone and just walked through it.’
It was overwhelming. The images on t.v. give an aerial view that is daunting, but to stand there gazing upwards at all of that twisted metal was awful. Every few minutes, as we walked, we’d hear an immense loud shattering as glass sheets from the remaining 5 floors of one of the towers fell out of their frames, and fell and shattered on the ground- and on the rescue workers below.

On the afternoon of the 13th, that last 5 floors collapsed, trapping firefighters and S&R people. But it was still standing as we walked by it. We got to the Battery and found rows of Army trucks and Special Forces Rangers milling around. I hate being surrounded by that many rifles. They all gave us a wide berth, clearly the gray mud on our shoes and legs showed that we had come through and out of the Hot Zone and were both medical personnel. They also figured- correctly- that we’d never have gotten this far if we weren’t’ supposed to have. This is the other reason that I didn’t cause a huge scene with that woman Diane who got my O2 tank bag. Whatever her motivation, I did realize that she’d never make it into the Hot Zone without someone in authority taking her in. At some point, she’d be busted.

We walked down to the South Ferry, and found a few ambulances parked up along the curved ramp used to load cars into the Staten Island Ferry. We went in and hooked up with the Triage Officer who seemed glad to see us. I found a nicely supplied and set-up Triage area, and left our stuff there. The officer said that mostly it was Diff breathing and severe eye irritation. 

I asked around for some nasal cannula tubes, and found some 1000 ml bags of saline. The other EMT’s and Paramedics who were there didn’t see why I wanted that stuff, they said they were using cut open bags of saline solution to do eye irrigation. For one thing, that got the patient pretty wet around the face and neck. For another thing, straight irrigation allowed the matter in the eyes to flow down into the mouth. Both are unacceptable side effects. I used a technique I’d learned from my EMT instructor last spring, and then modified that a bit more so it would be easier to control the flow of fluids and allow me to use one bag on more than one patient.	Made me feel good to show a new trick to these seasoned NY EMS guys...... and it worked more efficiently than the way they had been doing it.

I ran into an ABC cameraman there, and we talked for a while. It turned out that he had taken the first Steadicam workshop even given in 1981, when he was a Marine. Small world. We only had a few patients, all of whom let me make use of the irrigation system I’d rigged up since all of their eyes were very badly irritated. Bloodshot, swollen and scratchy.

Omar got a cell call from another surgeon uptown in the Piers, they had word they’d be getting a group of victims in. Who knew if it was true? By then there was another doctor there, and some Paramedics and so we left after checking out with the Triage Officer, and hopped a ride north with an ambulance.

We went back in, and Omar wandered off. I’d heard before I left that he had gone back down into the Hot Zone with another crew. He was itching to do some patient contact and unlike me, he’d had none. This kind of brings up something I thought about while I was down there, and something I witnessed that afternoon of Day 2 at the Chelsea Piers, before I left.

People have this overwhelming urge to do SOMETHING to help. If they were close enough, and trained, they’d do what I did and walk into it. Lacking training but having proximity, they’d hook up with Red Cross or some such, and work hard and long hours right there, giving support and sustenance. Surely a necessity. If they lacked all of those things, then I think many millions of people in the surrounding states and areas were and are very frustrated. There are clothing drives for the firefighters to have fresh clothes to get into, as they work and sleep in endless shifts.  There, at the Piers, this was evident in the most extreme ways. I witnessed an argument between the cop who was keeping things locked up at the gate, and a man who was a counselor. He was SO insistent that he be allowed in to help out with the family members who had their own private area inside the Piers. The officer at the gate told him gently- at first- that there was a full staff inside already and that he should leave his name and be assigned a number and they’d bring him in on a shift. Interestingly, he was telling the truth, he HAD been inside the day before- Tuesday. And, his friend who had brought him in was walking by, so in the midst of this argument, he yelled out his friends name and was escorted in. But, the heated tempers really pointed up the whole issue of how primal this drive to help out and be involved was, and is.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Piers were totally secured. With my I.D. and my gear I was passed through into the building, but many were not. Anyone who hadn’t been working, wasn’t allowed in at all. The exception of course was the fact that there was a very large Waiting Families area that was set up, away from the hospital area. It was staffed with counselors, etc. Any family member showing up was escorted there.

I got wind that Dan Rather might be doing a stand-up broadcast from the Piers. I walked outside the gated area and found a cameraman and asked if he was with CBS. He was, and he hooked me up with his producer. She got Susan Zirinsky on the cel phone. Zirinsky is the Producer I worked for on the show “48 Hours”. . I told Z that I was working the site and did she need any info that I might be able to get. I asked around about the morgue set-up, but nothing was said to me that was hard information.

A little while later, I walked around the outside of the Piers, and through the other large treatment area and took a look. It seemed to me that there were a LOT of FDNY Ambulances in line, and a lot of staff. I knew they had hundreds of names in reserve to call in, so I decided to leave. I was upset enough by that time, and ragged from lack of sleep. I also needed to get ahold of the Steadicam and make sure the gear was secured again.

I signed out at the desk, and walked down to 14th street. I figured I’d find a cab there. As I stood at the corner of the West Side Highway and 14th street, a flatbed tow truck went by, going north. Chained onto it was the remains of a FDNY ambulance. There was nothing left of it besides the flooring and the right side of the back of it. Everything else was torn away and burned. It was the first moment in all of it that I cried, and only then because I knew I was walking away from it for now. I turned and saw 6 or 7 police officers with what must have been the same expression I had. Normally, their faces are careful masks. Not then.

That’s about it. I did call a CISD counselor with Mobile Life the day after I got home, to find out what I was in for as far as post-event stress and symptoms. So far, he’s been right on the money. Tired, irritated, crying, etc. I assume it’ll fade with time but I wonder how I’ll feel the next time I do an ambulance call here.

9:30 a.m.
Friday, September 14th, 2001


Thank you.


I read this the first time last year and was moved. Rereading it is just as moving.

As the anniversary comes up, I think of what I was doing at the time, who I knew that was involved in different ways, and what my thoughts at the time were. I recall my pride that friends and board members like you immediately began doing their part to help recover from those horrible days.

Although we will never totally get beyond the events of that time, I am pleased that we are moving forward with our lives in this great City.