9/11/2001 Ten Years Later

After a busy September 10th I was looking forward to sleeping in on the 11th.  During my fourteen hour shift, my partner and I responded to nineteen calls.  It was an incredibly busy shift, and coupled with a few drinks afterwards at our favorite local establishment, I was ready for a morning off.  I was living in downtown Springfield in my nice little one bedroom apartment that I had occupied since graduating college earlier that year.  While I had my cell phone, I still had an apartment phone at that point, and its ringing woke me up just before 9am.

I had no intention of getting out of bed so I let my answering machine pick it up.  After the greeting played and the beep sounded, my mother’s voice filled the room: “Hey, are you up?  If so, I’m sure you’re watching TV.  If not, I suggest you go turn the news on.  Call me.”  I rubbed my eyes and made my way into my living room, flopped down on the couch and grabbed the remote.  When I turned on the TV, I saw that one of the towers was on fire with reports of a plane having crashed into it.  “Must have been an airline accident” I thought.  Minutes later though, my worst fears were confirmed: as I sat on my couch, I watched United Airlines Flight 175 strike the second tower.

We were under attack.

I sat on my couch for the next couple of hours and watched history unfold before my eyes.  I was joined by a few friends for a couple of hours before it was time for me to head off to my Tuesday 3-11 shift.  When I went into work, I found that my partner and I were split up and I’d be working with an EMT for the day instead of my usual paramedic partner.  He was on a truck that had been deployed down into Connecticut with the anticipation that casualties from the attacks in New York City would be sent north due to overflow in the New York hospitals.  Those patients never arrived.  Everyone feared and prepared for the worst.  No one knew what to expect next.

I did two calls that day and I remember them both vividly.  The first was for a person in criss.  The call left me upset because all I could think about was what was going on just a hundred miles to the south.  How could their problems matter?  I shrugged it off and did my job, just as I would have any other day.  We made short work of the job and got ourselves back into the street.

The second call was a routine seizure call in the meat locker of a local deli.  Although I remember the call vividly (the difficult extrication, the critical nature of our patient) it was really nothing more than your run of the mill seizure job.  O2, IV, monitor, valium close by just in case.  We made short work of this one too.

The rest of our day was spent in our truck, usually surrounded by other units at posts glued to our radios.  It was like everything else had stopped.  No one was out that day, nothing was going on.  Everyone was glued to their televisions or their radios or their computers.  Nothing else mattered.

I heard from my dad that evening as well.  He was working in North Jersey at the time and had a clear view of the Manhattan skyline from the roof of his office building.  He did not get to see much though, everyone was released from work early so that they could be at home with their families.

If I recall correctly, many of us skipped our usual Tuesday night ritual of drinks and stories that night.  We were all preparing for what we figured would be a long week.  I went home, and went to bed, still uncertain of what the days to come would entail.

The days that followed 9/11 were busy ones.  It did not take the city that I worked in long to get back to its usual pace.  Many of us worked a number of overtime hours as our resources continued to be shifted south to cover units that were also shifted closer to the city.  Most of us worked 16 hour shift after 16 hour shift to backfill the empty slots.  We were not doing it for the paychecks though, there seemed to be a more noble cause afoot.

My most vivid memory of the week was on Friday night.  My partner and I were pulled almost immediately from our office for our first call of the shift.  As we drove towards one of the nearby major intersections, lights and sirens ablaze, we found a number of people lining each side of the road holding candles and cheering us on.

Later in the shift, one of our crews called for a second ambulance at an MVA at another major intersection.  It was difficult for any of us to hear them on the radio over the cheering crowd in the background.  Our dispatcher was a bit worried at first, but those of us who were on the street already knew what was going on.  The support for emergency responders and the unity that I saw over the following months was inspiring.

As I sit here and finish this post up on September 10th, 2011, I cannot believe it has been ten years already.  It feels like just yesterday I was combing a list of missing responders for my preceptors I had ridden with a year and a half prior on the upper west side of Manhattan.  Thank you to those of you who were there that day, but also thank you to those who gave their time in the days and weeks following.  Just about everyone within two hundred miles of Ground Zero played a role in the aftermath.  Some sat at train stations waiting for patients who never arrived, others stood by waiting for survivors who were never pulled from the rubble, and even more of us just did anything we could, simply because that desire to help is in our blood.

The 343 / 23 / 37 will never be forgotten, but also take time to remember the non-profit and private service EMTs who gave their lives that day as well.

CLICK HERE To read my father’s account of his experiences at ground zero.

Posted 9/11/2011 at 08:46am.