World Trade Center, NYC, 9/11-9/12/01.....from the eyes of Eddie!
(written as a personal email to friends on 9/12 & 9/13/01, also see disclaimer at bottom of page).
[As I mention later in the story, I had a 27 shot Kodak disposable camera with me during this fiasco, which was developed and installed into the web page a few days later. Comments about the pictures in red. ]
Eddie is alive and well.
As I was watching the shit hit the fan on my PC at work, I decided to call the Denville firehouse to see what was up. People were already accumulating, prepared to respond to NYC. So, with the bosses permission, I took off from work and headed home. I rambled thru my house to set myself up for a few days of response: a cooler, shovels, turnout gear, first aid gear, food. There were 15 people at the firehouse, all running around trying to pull together a response team. Shortly after I arrived, we were officially blown out. We were told to respond to the Meadowlands Hospital's Ambulance Staging area. We were on the road by about 11:00am. We got 20 minutes out of town before word came out that we all needed Photo ID's to gain access to the scene, so we doubled back, went to the Police HQ, and they quickly knocked out photo IDs for us. (none of which were used at all, for the duration of this story).
I was one of 4 people on the Ambulance (228). Our town also rolled a rescue truck (which overheated on the way to Police HQ), and was subsequently replaced by our pumper, 223. As we drove towards NYC, you could see the smoke plume. Somehow, we ended up at Liberty State Park where several hundred Ambulances and apparatus staged.
[1.JPG , 2.JPG , 3.JPG are all shots of the smoke plume taken from the ambulance, as we were hauling ass down Rt. 3. I was in the back stretching thru the little corridor to the cab, so I'm lucky I don't have shots of somebody's ear. ]
LSP was, as expected, a clusterfuck. After hours of doing nothing, the pumper's crew cleared the scene and returned to Denville. Incident Command was not established till 8pm or so, so nobody really knew what to do, or how to help. (We had heard that Incident Command was wiped out when the towers collapsed, along with a large percentage of FDNY & NYPD). We all expected thousands of wounded to show up on busses or ferries, but they never did. Triage units, mobile hospitals were set up in three areas, along with three ambulance staging areas. Every 45 minutes or so, another briefing was held, we'd start up the rigs, and drive to the other side of LSP, to stage in a different place. We moved 6 or 8 times, sat in allot of ambulance traffic, and listened to the clatter of diesel engines for about 12 straight hours. Hanging out with "Band -Aid Betty's" is no easy feat either. (The ambulance personnel are a weird breed). Finally, about Midnight, they asked everyone to go home and get some rest, and be back at 07:00am the next day. They asked 10 rigs to stay behind for a special detail, ours being one of them.
[7.JPG is of the crew of both ambulance 228 and pumper 223. We had nothing better to do than pose for pictures. From left to right: Joe Arcoleo, Eddie Maines, Hobie Erickson, Wesley Sharples, Megan Erickson. Mike Leonard, Sal Mazza & Skip Cook]
[9.JPG is yet another view of the smoke plume from LSP. The white canopy was a huge triage area. Radio reports claimed that 2000 people were delivered by ferry to here...but I didn't see one of them, and I doubt the report was true. 11.JPG is a crappy shot of inside the triage canopy, later in the evening]
[10.JPG is a very dark, grainy shot of the a second triage area set up at LSP. Normally a picnic area under some trees located at a small peninsula. At one point, they asked us to drive into this area, dump everything from our ambulance, and go back to the parking lot. Completely crazy idea that I'm glad never happened.]
LSP had a surreal view of the disaster during sunset. All the 25 cent tourist binoculars along the waterside provided an interesting diversion while we waited our next command. We mainly passed the time by horsing around and eating.
At 1am, all 10 of our rigs got on the road for our special task. We were expecting to make a B-line into NYC, to pick up some wounded. We ended up in Hoboken, at the waterside, at yet another staging area, with the same mound of "commanders" who seemed important, carried clipboards, but did not necessarily seem to be part of the big picture. We were directly across from the incident, and had spectacular views into the night.. There, two tugboats were going back and forth, and docking near us. Once again, an elaborate triage area was set up. Lights, food, beverage, generators, the works. But strangely, no wounded (save for the captain of one of the tugs, who had a heart attack). I think it was then that I realized that the lack of wounded at these trauma stations was an ominous sign.
At around 2am, we finally had had it with the entire incident command system. It wasn't working for us at all. It seemed to be nothing more than the hugest of barriers to keep us from where we were needed. We did not come to watch, we came to work. And we knew manpower was needed desperately at the scene. We were formally cleared from the Hoboken scene and told that if we'd like to head to NYC, we should shoot for the 23rd street staging area. We then made a decision to give it a go! With lights and sirens, we just pointed our rig to the Holland Tunnel. Much to our amazement and surprise, we were waved past every possible security checkpoint and barrier.. When we finally reached the tubes, the two huge Nose-to-nose Dump trucks even backed apart to let us past. Next thing we knew, we were in the city. We were actually pretty scared puppies at that point. It was for real. We were wondering what the hell else the enemy had in store for us. We were thinking "Anthrax"?? We were thinking "Dirty Bomb"??.. But we made our way to the 23rd street staging area, on the West side highway.
23rd street, at Chelsea pier was the first place that seemed to know what was up. Finally..connected people with a clue!!! They too, had a massive emergency room set up....but, of course, no patients. But they did have a ton of food and beverage.
[12.JPG is a grainy, underexposed shot of the 3 other guys on our crew, minutes after we arrives at 23rd/Chelsea pier. Taken about 2:30am. From left to right; Joe Arcoleo, Brendan Shipley, Wesley Sharples (our Lt).]
I could not believe the extent of the food, beverage and supplies that had been deployed to NYC...It came from everywhere, anyhow, anyway imaginable. I'm sure hundreds, if not thousands of businesses simply purged entire stocks. I'm not just talking a Blimpie Deli worth of sandwiches... I mean tractor trailers of Bottled water, followed by tractor trailers of Tropicana OJ, etc... We watched 7 truckloads of portojohns go past in a caravan....enough to cover Woodstock even. (Umm, I know everyone wants to help, and food donation seems to be the first thing that comes to people's minds...so if you're going to donate food, remember that your tray of sandwiches that may go unrefrigerated for 13 hours isn't going to do anyone any good. Remember that there's no temporary lift on safe food handling practices just because a disaster struck. More importantly though, consider helping in other ways that might count more: blood donations at a later date. Money donations to families who lost their breadwinners. It seemed to me that there's no lack of food in NYC at the moment. )
We were at 23rd for only 15 minutes when a pack of trauma nurses and doctors approached us for a ride down to ground zero. They (claimed they) were requested to do one final sweep of the scene for any emergency amputations before they called the operations for the night. We got them three blocks from the zone. This was our first close up glimpse of the hell we were about to enter. There were fireman everywhere, many of which were sleeping in the street and others mourning the loss of their buddies. But the surgeons were not needed, so we delivered them back to 23rd. At that point, Channel 2 stuffed a news camera in my face. I did my best to answer, but tiredness was a factor. I don't think I was very fluent, and I stumbled thru what they asked of me. We spent from 3:30am to 6am, catching something that resembled sleep in the back of 228.
At 6am, we headed back down to the same spot we hit before, three blocks away. We geared up with workgloves, helmet, dustmasks, and turnout gear, and walked into the zone. Once again, we kept expecting to be halted at some checkpoint, but we simply blent in to all the other thousands of workers.
[14.JPG was taken from about 3 blocks to the north, aiming towards ground zero on I believe, West Street. We're about to walk into the scene, at about 6:30am on Wednesday morning. At this point, we were looking for guidance...and we more or less teamed up with the other Fire Department guys pictured here. We walked with them for a bit, just in awe of the destruction. ]
What we saw was horrific. Looked like an asteroid hit. Looked like a disaster movie set. It was unreal. It was almost cartoonish. More like Earthquake devastation.
As we got closer, we first saw dozens of burned out firetrucks, cars, busses, emergency vehicles, and support apparatus. I mean vehicles that looked like pancakes, or covered with collapsed debris, or caved in...some of the buried response vehicles still with flashing light bars. There were junkyard heavy front-end loaders picking up the cars, and stacking them in a mound out of the way of the rest of the incoming apparatus (dump trucks, cranes, dumpsters, generators, lighting). 2 to 3 inches of sandy colored soot covered everything. Looked like the scenes from the ash spewed out of the eruption of Mt. St Helens. Paper littered the street...I mean an eerie amount of paper everywhere, from the office buildings, along with all sorts of other debris. A scary array of fire equipment, small and large, abandoned in place.
18.JPG A look into ground zero. You can see the remaining wall of one of the towers in the center.]
As we got closer, we saw the surrounding buildings. Many had collateral damage. Windows caved in. Tremendous amounts of Soot inside, covering entire "cube farm" office spaces. Some buildings had huge dents and tears from massive falling objects. Three were burned out shells, still on fire or smoking.
[19.JPG was a little further down Vesey street. Building #7 was the 40 story building that collapsed later in the evening. The ladder trucks had a steady deluge stream on the smoldering heap all day. Note all the collateral building damage. We were able to continue walking around this heap, essentially making a right at the next intersection, onto Church Street!]
[20.JPG is a little closer to the corner. A flattened UPS truck. ]
[21.JPG as we neared that intersection of Church & Vesey, this burned out bus was down the street to our left...we kept heading right onto Church though].
Eventually we were right in front of ground zero. What was left of the Towers. Still smoldering. I just couldn't believe my eyes. Hundreds of firefighters just stood there, gaping at it. But sooner or later, the 4 of us realized there would be no special invitation given to us. There would be no commander to tell our sorry asses what to do. Nothing organized. What the hell do you do? Where do you start? So we just went in.....
[22.JPG was taken from the intersection of Church and Vesey, looking South down along Church Street. You can see the remnants of one of the towers, and some of the crushed fire apparatus. ]
[23.JPG was taken at the entrance to the courtyard that provided one of the only easy access points to the pile of debris. You can see the chain of workers forming for the debris removal chore. The building to the right caught fire later in the day, emitting thick black smoke onto the bucket brigade. Wesley and Brendan worked the handlines to put it out. You can see the remnants of the outer wall of the other tower across the way.
Several long lines had formed of rescue workers lifting and passing twisted metal and debris to a mound near the street. (A front end loader was moving that mound to dump trucks). We just jumped into the line and dug right in. Thousands of pounds of sheet metal, rebar, concrete, conduit and other debris passed through our hands...some of it actually still smoldering! The chain of rescue workers were a haphazard mix of organizations. NYPD cops, FDNY fireman, Fireman from everywhich town, from everywhich state, Urban search and rescue specialists, FBI members, ATF members, a surgeon with scrubs on, you name it and it was represented on the line.
[24.JPG was the last shot in the camera. A general shot of the mound of death and destruction. Like I said..."Where do you start?" I wished I had another camera because there was easily 200 other amazing shots that I wanted to take. I was cursing myself for wasting the earlier shots...but hindsight's always 20/20. ]
There were some *huge* deep, open holes that some of the FDNY guys went into (guys that seemed a little more trained in urban search and rescue). There were about 15 search dogs and masters already on the wreckage. Some firefighters were dealing with small fires that popped up. All activity stopped at one point when a body was found. Well, half of one anyway. The upper half, and hardly recognizable as a human. Looked more like it was part of the rubble. Once that was bagged and lifted, we resumed the chain debris removal. A melted cell phone, a melted computer keyboard, a woman's shoe, a jacket with a wallet in it, a fire-helmet, and a long list of other recognizable stuff that made you realize that it wasn't just a news story, but that real people died there.
I was a bit surprised that we only saw one body. I was expecting much more than that. But as I looked around and saw the 3" of soot that spread out 10 blocks, I realized that some percentage of that soot was comprised of incinerated human remains. (I tightened my dust mask a little bit more).
With hindsight, I think the rubble removal was a necessary thing for the fireman to do. There were hundreds of fireman lost, and the brotherhood needed to *try* to give it all they had. They all needed to step up to the mound, peer inside, and see for themselves that it was a mainly unsurviveable event. But the debris removal seemed to be nothing but a fart in the wind. All morning long, and it seemed as if we didn't even scratch the surface. It will take months...
Around 10am, they halted operations once again. One of the shorter WTC buildings (a shell) caught on fire again. In fact some of my Denville team actually fought that one (so they're all psyched). We evacuated because the outer wall of one of the buildings, a huge wall of girders, was bent over and hanging precariously over the tops of us.
We used that opportunity to take a break, get breakfast, drinks. Again, everywhere we turned, food or drink was thrust into our hands. I got to the point where I'd take the food even though I didn't really want it, because I could see that the person handing it out NEEDED to help in some way, ANY way. And by handing me whatever it was and hearing my "thank you", they felt better.
As I walked back out to the rig, I was personally photographed by 10 different photographers. Now *that* was freaky! But I was too tired to acknowledge them at all... too tired to care.
At about 11am, we tried to get back into the scene and do more digging. But it was apparent that we were now in the way. The operation had shifted into heavy equipment mode. Girder removal, metal cutting with torch cutters and metal cutting portable saws...and all the heavy construction huge rigs and cranes. By then, the National Guard had formed a human barrier between the swelling crowd of rescuers and the scene. A clear indication that it was time to get out of there.
We went back to the rig, which was parked in front of Stuyvesent High School, where they had yet another EMS station with food. There were about 20 people with a shitheaping mess of a sandwichmaking operation, so I decided to do what I do best: I got this act together. :-) I taught the crew well, and we banged out hundreds of sandwiches for very appreciative and hungry workers.
It was there that I was able to borrow a cell phone to call my brother and mother, to let them know what was going on. Lots of rescue workers had cell phones, but as the days dragged on, the batteries all depleted.
I had one of those disposable 27 shot Kodak cameras, which I used throughout my adventure. The bummer was that I took too many pictures too early, and didn't have enough later on when I saw the most visual stuff (at ground zero). But still, I'm sure they will be interesting. Being developed now.
We bailed out on the scene at around 2:30pm, came back to the firehouse to an awaiting band of people who only wanted to hear the stories firsthand. I played that scene for a while, then took off home... Still in my dirty WTC clothing, I cut the lawn. Life goes on.
I have to go to Wildwood NJ for the NJ State Fireman's Convention...which is the last thing I feel like doing right now. But I can't see going back to NYC either, so it seems like the best place to be.
Anyway.... I feel like my heart's been ripped out over the tragic loss here. The loss of all those brother rescue workers has an extra sting to it. My best to all those effected, directly or indirectly.
But please don't worry about me though. Cool here. Tired, but fine. Just a tough couple of days. ttyl. -EDDIE
[*DISCLAIMER: The views stated here are my personal views only, and not necessarily the opinion of the Denville Volunteer Fire Department. This was essentially a private email to friends, which I've put on a webpage...to limit email traffic. An earlier version of this webpage contained some very inaccurate information about our decision to "freelance". I found out later that we were formally cleared from the Hoboken staging and given a recommendation to proceed to the staging area in NYC, if we so chose. Because I was in the back of the ambulance trying to catch some sleep, I wasn't privy to these conversations. My presumption was that we had done our own thing. In my rush to get this story out, I failed to check with my partners for accuracy. My apologies to all effected by my poor reporting of the event. EZ ].
I was a member of the Denville Volunteer Fire Department from Jan 1990 to
March 2002. At that time I was a NJ State Certified EMT and a Public
Safety/Rescue Diver. I am no longer a member and my EMT
cert has since expired.
I was a member of the Denville Volunteer Fire Department from Jan 1990 to March 2002. At that time I was a NJ State Certified EMT and a Public Safety/Rescue Diver. I am no longer a member and my EMT cert has since expired.