By Doreen Greenwood
The morning was crisp and clear as I woke on Primary Day, at 6AM. As my busy day began, I felt the excitement of seeing my family and having them around all day for this special day. As we got together one by one we discussed our plans to cover the primary day polls.
While driving near Marine Park, I spotted smoke in the sky. Being a firefighter, smoke always catches my eye. As I walked into my daughter’s house, she asked me to look at the television so I could see what was going on in lower Manhattan. She had on CNN. I could not believe that a plane had crashed into the Twin Tower. Just as we were watching the footage, the TV showed another plane going right through the building. I couldn’t believe it! I felt myself standing in front of the television with my mouth open, feeling such despair that I couldn’t hold back the tears.
As the morning went on, I found out about more of the particulars; that there were already rescuers in the building when the second plane hit; that there were thousands of people in the building when it collapsed. I felt overwhelmed with emotion for the rest of the morning. School children’s parents were taking their children out of school in fright for their lives.
I called a family meeting at my sons house so that we could all be together. Being a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT with the Gerritsen Beach Fire Department, I went to the firehouse as soon as possible. The other Members were already there. Most of them were already covering Engine 321’s quarters as they were relocated.
Others stood by the firehouse in case there were other calls. We sat there all day, waiting to hear any good news. The day went on with more tragic news of other building collapses and multiple tragedies too heart wrenching to even repeat.
As darkness occurred, it became more difficult to go home and not do anything about this horrific event. About 8 p.m. my friend John and I started off to the scene of the devastation to find out if we could help. We took our gear and got in the car and got to the tunnels’ entrance. There were police everywhere. There were checkpoints for identification going into the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. As we moved through the tunnel, it became dark and full of dust. Finally, as we exited the tunnel, checkpoints coming out of the tunnel became very tight.
After showing our identification the police told us to move ahead and to be careful. The dust from the collapsed buildings thickened the air. As we drove to the triage sight we moved slowly through the dust. Everything was covered with the dust and debris from the fallen buildings. Mixed in the dust were papers everywhere. I observed cars and vans damaged with broken glass.
There were no windows in some of the buildings. They were downed firetrucks, ambulances and police cars that were buried in dust. There was so much destruction that it became almost unbelievable. The scene was just horrible.
We parked the car between two other cars that were virtually buried with dust. As we walked around the corner, we saw ambulances from all over New York all lined up, fully stocked and staffed and ready for patients. I was helping to stock the South side triage station which was in the lobby of a luxury apartment building. There were doctors and nurses and other EMT’s waiting for patients to be brought to them from the wreckage. We all waited. I washed out eyes of doctors and firemen. I cleaned off abrasions and helped out people who were just too tired to carry on. We waited. There wasn’t anyone to be pulled out of the rubble to help. The rubble was too deep. The air was too thick.
There were still fires. There were still unstable buildings. There were feelings of frustration, anxiety, fear, and exhaustion by the rescue workers. One fireman that came to the triage station, sat down in a corner on the floor and put his head down. I sat next to him and asked him if he was okay. He said "Yeah, I’m fine, I had two buildings collapse next to me today and I’m still here."
It was 4:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. My day was over. I was tired and frustrated and so was everyone else. I think adrenaline kept most people going for 24 hours and then they crashed.
Friday morning we headed out at about 8 a.m. for the disaster site, again. It was pouring rain. As we drove through the tunnel, heavy equipment stood all around us outside of West Street. We parked at Battery Park and walked to "ground zero". There were a lot more buildings down since Wednesday morning; steel, aluminum and debris was stacked along the side of West Street. Most of the destroyed vehicles were removed to make room for heavy equipment. We went directly to ground zero and got on an assembly line of debris removal. Down the line came papers mixed with ash loaded in buckets. After the buckets were emptied in very small piles, the debris was sifted through by special agents and police who were looking for any identification of anyone. It was pouring rain. While working as fast as we could on the assembly line, I got to talk to some of the people on each side of me and across from me. Across from me was Kevin Gallager with FDNY. On my right was a man from Local 3 in Queens. To the left was a man from Pittsburgh who was a construction worker.
As the debris filled the street, it became time for the heavy equipment to come in and pick it up. We broke for lunch at about 1 p.m. which consisted of a smorgasbord. There were sandwiches, fruit, granola bars, coffee, cookies and I even found a small bag of potato chips. There was hot soup and people who asked you to come inside and dry off. I was feeling very wet and cold.
Everyone was wonderful. Everyone looked around to see if they could do something for anyone. While waiting for the Construction crews to make it safe for us to enter the work site, I observed all the workers surrounding me. There were steel workers, construction workers, electricians, DEP workers, Police, Corrections and Firefighters from all states. Workers from Canada to London, from California and Chicago to Virginia, in all capacities, united and working together. It was America in action. It did not become safe again for us to enter the site that day. As we were walking away, we heard the fighter jets and the Presidents helicopter overhead. The President was arriving to speak to the crews. this was truly America!
Gerritsen Beach Volunteer Fire Department is the only volunteer Fire Department in Brooklyn. Firefighters Theresa Romako and Joe Benecke have also been there alternate days, working for the rescue efforts of our heroes.
We, from the Gerritsen Beach Volunteer Fire Department will continue our rescue efforts as long as we are allowed to continue. I am sure other volunteers will also continue to do so.
My heart goes out to the victims, their relatives and friends of September 11th. These people are war heroes. The efforts for search and recovery is phenomenal. I will keep going back to help for as long as they need the help and I know I am one of thousands.