TOPICS > Nation

New York Rescue

September 13, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: This is a staging area some two miles north of the crash sites. Volunteers stream in from the skilled trades, a reminder of what a union town New York still is. Skilled people built the World Trade Center; it will take skilled people to tear it down.

PADDY O’KEEFE, Iron Worker: Some of these guys built this building.


PADDY O’KEEFE: Yes. I was around when it was first started, and we think that we can get down here and help take it down. We worked on it going up, so we should be able to work on it going down.

KENNY PATTERSON, Iron Worker: We can burn steel. We cut the steel. You know, that’s our specialty.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you worry about the danger of a place that’s still unstable?

PLACID DENNIS, Iron Worker: Something like that, you always worry about it, but you’ve got to put the fear aside and go and do what you need to do to get the job done. That’s all.

KEVIN WEAVER, Hazardous Materials Specialist: Basically this is done in case we get hurt, we can be identified.

RAY SUAREZ: What have you got on there?

KEVIN WEAVER: My name, my Social Security number, my blood type, and my phone number.

RAY SUAREZ: When your helmet says that you’re a HAZMAT guy, what does that mean? What can you do when you get there?

KEVIN WEAVER: Well, it’s not a pretty job, but I can go down in small holes, and I’m trained to go down as far as I can get.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, what might be down there after a situation of this kind?

KEVIN WEAVER: About anything: People, oil, gasoline, electrical fires. The most important thing that everybody is looking for is survivors.

LOIS ISAKSEN, Carpenter: My son saw… His school is right across the river from… He has a perfect view of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and, I mean, he saw people jumping out the building, and, I mean, he could tell me what color their shirts…

RAY SUAREZ: Is that why you felt that you had to come forward to do this?

LOIS ISAKSEN: I was at work this morning, and I just… I couldn’t be there.

RAY SUAREZ: Vehicles that make it onto the island of Manhattan are loaded with donated food, clothes, gloves, blankets, water. These workers come knowing they may not see home for a while.

WORKER: We just drove down from Chicago.

RAY SUAREZ: They board buses and head for ground zero. The hard work of pulling apart the wreckage of two of the world’s largest buildings cannot go on full tilt– not yet, not as long as there is even a slight chance of finding people alive. Search-and-rescue dogs are rotated in and out of the site, and fresh fire crews working hellish hours search for thousands of World Trade Center workers and their own comrades.

KEVIN GALLAGHER, United Firefighters Association: Every one of these firefighters in here are our brothers. Every one of these police officers in here are our brothers. And the civilians that are in here are the people that we’re sworn to protect. That’s our job; that’s what we do. And as far as I’m concerned, I treat every person in there as my personal family, and every firefighter does the same thing. Our job is to go in and do what we have to do. We tell them to rest. They do get their rest. We tell them to sit down. We have guys lined up over there, thousands of firefighters and fire officers lined up over there with police officers, waiting for the opportunity to go in. We have to hold them back because we don’t want to create a situation where, because of the structural defects, et cetera, where they’re going to be put further in danger, and maybe during the recovery process, we wind up endangering someone else.

RAY SUAREZ: Some of the injured were so badly hurt; they couldn’t even be treated at the city’s top-flight trauma centers. The most seriously burned were taken to New York Presbyterian Medical Center. The burn unit’s chief held out little hope for those most severely injured.

DR. ROGER YURT, Burn Specialist: Almost all of them are in very critical condition. We’re talking 70-90% of their bodies burned. A patient with a 70% burn has a chance, if they’re young and healthy, of about 20% survival.

HOSPITAL WORKER: Someone from respiratory, please pick up on 603.

DR. ROGER YURT: If they have an inhalation injury– that is, if they breathe smoke in, then the chance of survival decreases by about 20%. Many of these people, we anticipate, did have smoke inhalation injury because a lot of it seemed to be within a closed space where there was smoke.

RAY SUAREZ: So what you’re saying is that most people on this ward will probably not make it?

DR. ROGER YURT: The ones with the big burns… there’s a very small chance.

RAY SUAREZ: Thousands are still hoping their missing friend, father, sister, wife will still be found among the living.

WOMAN: I’m trying to locate my daughter. She’s still missing. Her name is Marita Tam. If someone sees her, please let me know.

RAY SUAREZ: The New York City Office of Emergency Management shifted its operations to a public television station, one of the few places in town that already had hundreds of phone lines running in. Pledge lines were open, but Red Cross volunteers took missing persons calls, hour after hour after hour.

LYNDEI KAHANEK, Emergency Management Worker: Let me just go over what we need to do. We’ve been working off list number two, which has all the missing people that we have so far listed with the different hospitals. We also have some names that are kind of close but not quite the same. Like we have, you know, Juan and John kind of things. We call those a possible match, so we have the found, the possible match, and then we have the missing, the no-match. We also have separate categories for firemen, police, a separate entity, and the airlines.

RAY SUAREZ: Pictures of Lower Manhattan have been beamed around the world, but just a short distance from the fires and twisted metal are neighborhoods stretching north home to more than a million Manhattanites.

SPOKESMAN: Would you not stand in the middle of the street?

RAY SUAREZ: Normally telling New Yorkers what to do is not easy, but after attacks, there is a sense on the street that this is no time to argue. People show I.D. at police barriers, wait quietly and patiently on long lines; clear streets to keep them open and moving, and break into spontaneous applause for the police and firefighters. There is a growing understanding that these forces have suffered the largest losses in their long histories. There are some 350 firefighters missing and presumed dead, and more than 30 police officers. Hundreds of police and firefighters were clustered around the north and south towers when they came down. Across the river in Brooklyn, life looks pretty normal on 7th Avenue, this neighborhood’s main commercial street. But the Boy Scouts of Troop 815 are learning a lesson about loss. As cubs, they visited Squad One every year. 11 firefighters are missing from Squad One alone.

SCOUTMASTER: One of the first trips of the year we usually do is to take the kids down to the firehouse. It’s very exciting. What always impressed me is when I would see the whole truck pull up to a bagel store. You know, you would get in line; there would be eight firemen in line ahead of you or something. But the thing I finally realized was those guys, when they’re on duty; they’re never out of each other’s sight for a minute. Wherever they are, if that fire… if that alarm comes in, they have to go that second.

SPOKESPERSON: They’re not down or anything. Like, they do all these things. They see people die and everything, but they’re not, like, sad or…

SPOKESMAN: Still cheerful.


SPOKESMAN: The firemen were just great. They loved to have kids come in. They really… They feel camaraderie with the scouts because they know that it’s… They’re very similar organizations, actually.

RAY SUAREZ: Scoutmaster Bill Tucker’s next-door neighbor, firefighter Dave Fontana, is among the missing.

SCOUTMASTER BILL TUCKER: He was just a wonderful guy, and we were very close friends. He came to our pack meeting two years ago and gave… Perfectly on his own time, gave a whole demonstration, told us all about firefighting, and then he put on his suit, and I said… It was quite an experience. It took him almost five minutes, and I remember just everybody sitting there utterly fascinated, and when he finally got it on, there was just… There was a standing ovation for him, because he looked, you know, well protected.

RAY SUAREZ: So the boys, their schools still closed, joined the neighbors in marking an enormous loss for one firehouse…

SPOKESMAN: I don’t think many people in Park Slope realize that this troop, this firehouse has suffered such… such casualties.

RAY SUAREZ: …Bringing flowers, remembering their friends.

SPOKESMAN: It’s just something that people will never forget and probably won’t get over a long, long time. These firemen are so much a part of the community. They live in the community; their kids go to school. Everybody knows them.

DYLAN TUCKER, Boy Scout: They were the bravest people, and they went in trying to save other people’s lives. So I thought they should be honored.

NOAH CHASEK McFOY, Boy Scout: They died because they were helping other people. They were really good people.

RAY SUAREZ: They crouch to sign the poster-size card. In so many ways, it says “thank you, thank you.”

CHRIS WOLF, Boy Scout: The firemen gave their lives today, very great men, and that they’re heroes, and I think everybody is with them, and our thoughts are with you.

RAY SUAREZ: Or as young Alex puts it, “thank you, firefighters, for saving the world.”