I was headed into work when the first plane hit.
I didn’t hear about it on the radio because I was cranking some music, testing out the hard drive based MP3 player I had hacked into my Jeep. It wasn’t until a co-worker came into my office to tell me about the first plane hitting.
I fired up cnn.com and tried to get an idea of what was going on, and I thought it was strange that the headline kept changing.
Not really “getting it” yet, I fired off an email to the cnn.com webmaster (a friend of mine) and asked if they were thinking about long term archiving of web based news stories…
See, I was the “new guy” on the team – less than 6 months. I had a team T-Shirt, hard-hat I bought at Home Depot, 2 pairs of blue BDU’s, some desert camo surplus BDU’s from Ed, boots that I bought at Work N’ Gear, a surplus Alice Pack from the high school basement, and my dad’s old army duffel bag. It really wasn’t until this moment that I understood what US&R really was all about.
After some text chats with Tom Carr, and the second plane hitting, the reality sank in.
I started taking notes from the media reports. The office had a TV setup in a training room, so I went down there to watch and take notes – the TV was still providing faster information updates than the internet at that time.
I was getting ready to leave work to grab what little gear I had and head to Beverly, when the CEO called a mandatory meeting – where he essentially told everyone to go home and take care of their families.
I got a hold of Lora as I was driving home to get my tiny pile of gear – this was tricky since she was working as a Med Student on the inpatient mental health floor of a hospital in Worcester during all of this, but that’s her story to tell.
As I was driving back to Beverly, I got a hold of my mom. She was in tears at the thought of me going. I didn’t think I’d be going – I was brand new.
Then the yo-yo started with phone calls: “You’re going.” … “You’re not going.” … “You might be going”
Someone asked me if I would go if there was a slot, and I remember looking around at the people at the cache – people who had trained for this and were way more qualified than I was at the time, and saying “If someone with more training can go, you should take them”. (First lesson: If someone asks if you can go, you say “YES”)
During the team briefing given by Gerry, I was going. By the end of the briefing, someone more senior showed up, and I wasn’t going anymore. I was relived and crushed at the same time.
Right after the yellow school bus rolled out the gate several of us went into the office and started creating a schedule for people to staff the home base. I made sure I was on it as much as possible.
I spent a couple night shifts in Beverly and a day shift or two – squeezing it all in between going to my regular day job. Luckily, I had a very understanding supervisor – which is unusual in an industry that is very far removed from public safety.
As I think about this now, several things strike me about the MA-TF 1 response to the World Trade Center:
- I made phone calls to family members to keep them abreast of team status. At the time this seemed trivial in the context of what was going on in the world. It wasn’t until I was tromping through the sewage of Waveland, MS after Katrina, and I knew someone was calling my family every day, that I felt any value for that contribution.
- It was very strange, and very difficult, to be one step closer to the boots on the ground than the rest of the public. When the team came back and I started processing the photos at night, I knew I was seeing things the rest of the world didn’t. I was going out of my mind, sitting at a desk in an office during the day, knowing what work was going on and not having anyone to connect to and talk about it.
I helped the team get out the door, I did home support, I helped unload when they returned, and I rehabbed the gear. I created the photo CD (“borrowing” some equipment from work) and hand-labeled every one. I’ve built memorial websites and helped retrieve memorial steel.
But I did NOT go to New York on 9/11.
Those that did will forever have my respect and gratitude. Their courage and actions will be something I will “never forget”. When someone from MA-TF 1 who went to New York calls me brother, it is the greatest compliment I have received.
As the son of a firefighter and the only person in my family that didn’t go into the military (due to severe asthma when I was 18… believe me I tried), I’d spent years searching for a way to serve. As the school bus rolled out the gate at 4pm on 9/11, I knew I had found a way to at least do something.
Now, 12 years later, I’m sitting in another office – but at least this one has the FEMA logo on the door.
MATF-1 Technical Information Manager