Rochelle News-Leader | My little part in the recovery of September 11
On September 11, 2001, I went to work at 7.45 a.m.
Firefighters were finishing their last cup of coffee before starting vehicle inspections. I took a cup and went to my office. I had just started reviewing the calls from the night before when the phone rang.
My wife just said, “Turn on the information. It was the start of my involvement in the September 11 attacks. For the remainder of the day, we saw four planes claiming the lives of nearly 3,000 citizens. The second plane struck seventeen minutes later. Time and time again, the news has replayed scenes of planes crashing into the towers of the World Trade Center.
We saw bodies fall from the upper floors, and then the first building collapsed. An hour and 42 minutes after the impact of the first plane, the second tower fell. The Pentagon was hit and another plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
There was great fear that the Sears Tower in Chicago might be a target. The Illinois Fire Department has been put on alert and requests have been made to prepare to move personnel and equipment to Chicago if an attack does occur. Security was tightened and emergency responders were on high alert. Over time, fears of an immediate attack in Illinois faded.
Within days, I received a request from the National Organization of Victims Assistance to prepare a response in New York as a member of a victim assistance team. I packed my “go bag” and put it in a corner.
Being put on response alert is a risky situation, you are expected to be able to respond to the site within 24 hours knowing that you might not be sent at all. The City of Rochelle authorized my response, the firefighters prepared for my absence and my wife gave her blessing.
The call arrived on September 19, at O’Hare Airport at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. The flight was on American Airlines, one of the airlines that lost planes on September 11. We started the debriefings on the flight, in collaboration with the aircraft personnel.
I arrived at Newark Airport at 7.15am with five other responders from Illinois. Our mission was to help families, first responders and others affected by the New York attack. I had no idea this would be the total population of New York and New Jersey.
On the first evening, we responded to the Administration of Children Services (ACS) on Stanton Island. On the morning of September 21, the team was assigned to the Family Assistance Center (FAC) in Liberty Station New Jersey. The site is located on the banks of the Hudson River within sight of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the smoking remains of Manhattan.
We arrived at 6 a.m. and at 7 a.m. eight buses arrived with families of people still missing at the Trade Centers.
For the next 11 hours, I helped families cope with the uncertainty of the future. Was their spouse, child or parent dead or alive? What would life be like from tomorrow? On September 22, I was posted to the yard station at Home Port Stanton Island.
Here, people working at the Fresh Kills landfill would come to rest and recover from searching for human remains in the debris transported from the Manhattan scene to the disposal site.
Obviously, these people were traumatized and re-traumatized with every truckload of debris. They would unload the truck, pick up the debris, and hand-search for identification items and human remains. A brutal job that would have negative consequences on the police and firefighters who had accepted this post.
And so, most of the days spent at the Family Support Center with families who had lost loved ones or with emergency responders felt that they had let their comrades down by surviving.
My second response in New York took place on June 1, 2002. It was about eight months after the attack. The 10 story pile of debris was now almost completely removed. The “heap” had become the “hole”. When we arrived, we visited the site and established the parameters of our mission.
This response, we were working primarily with construction workers, first responders and, to a lesser extent, the families of the victims. One of our main goals was to work with local mental health workers to establish “September Space”, a facility that would provide assistance to those affected by the September 11 attack after the site closed. and the end of the world.
Over the next eight days, I had the honor of working with people who had spent the past eight months searching for human remains so families could close, clergymen who prayed for every remains found, and families who just visited the site and needed someone to talk to. too much.
Many of these people will bear the scars of the attack on the World Trade Center forever. Like them, I will never forget the small role I was allowed to play when America was attacked.
Former Rochelle Fire Chief Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum historian and Rochelle city councilor.