On 9/11, several thousand on- and off-duty police and rescue personnel responded to the calls for assistance. As thousands of office workers fled the World Trade Center, these heroes ran in the opposite direction. They did not hesitate. They sprinted into the buildings and up the stairs with heavy packs upon their backs to rescue the injured, and to prevent the spread of fire. These heroes included firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and FBI Agents.
The Arrival of American Airlines Flight 11
When American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the upper floors of the North Tower (One WTC) at 8:46 am, the response from local emergency workers was instantaneous. Just prior to 9:00 am, realizing that what was confronting them was unprecedented, NYC police chief Joseph Esposito issued an order for a “Level 4 Mobilization” to the WTC. It called for 1,000 NYPD officers to immediately dispatch to the site. Level 4 is the highest level of alert for the NYPD. The FDNY was also signaling its highest alert—a Five Alarm response. In fact, the FDNY launched the biggest response in its history “drawing resources from across (New York’s) five boroughs. Thousands of other first responders and government officials arrived on the scene as well, from local, state, and federal agencies.”[i] Firefighters began to ascend the North Tower while EMT professionals set up triage centers, and police officers helped establish evacuation routes while keeping onlookers away from harm. All of this response, at that moment, was due to just one of the buildings being struck.
The arrival of United Airlines Flight 175
When United Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower (Two WTC) at 9:03 am there were sixteen colleagues of mine still on our two floors—77 and 78. As mentioned in a previous blog, the four on 78 were tragically killed by the explosion. The other twelve who were on 77 gathered themselves, both mentally and physically, to find each other and a way out. At 9:10 am, which was about the time my surviving colleagues began their descent, the NYPD “declared an unprecedented second Level 4 mobilization, summoning another 1,000 officers and supervisors to the scene.” At 9:29 am, as my friends were approaching the end of their downward trek, the FDNY issued a full recall, bringing all its employees back to work. While the actions of the on-duty responders were heroic, the actions of those off-duty were exemplary. In his book The Only Plane in the Sky, author Garrett Graff said, “Even as the massive NYPD and FDNY mobilizations activated additional units, off-duty first responders and those who lived outside of Manhattan realized the magnitude of the disaster and began to make their way downtown. . . . Ultimately, 60 of the FDNY personnel killed on 9/11 were supposed to be off-duty that morning.”[ii] That fact is incredibly sad, but it also reflects their commitment to all of us.
All Hail, Officer Suarez!
As the final group of Baseline’s associates made it to street level, they were greeted by many emergency personnel. Our employee in most need of assistance was Jyoti Dave Vyas—a systems engineer with Baseline who was 7-months pregnant. She was not ready that day to be tested so physically. She was near collapse as the team exited the South Tower onto Church Street. Upon seeing Jyoti, NYPD officer, Ramon Suarez, joined with our own Simon Chen to grab a hold of Jyoti and escort her to an ambulance. Jyoti and her unborn child would eventually be fine. However, Officer Suarez, being a hero, being a first responder for the City of New York, knew where his duties lie. He went back into the building to help others. He did not survive the day. May we never forget Officer Ramon Suarez!
After the buildings came down, those first responders that could escape—did. But that wasn’t the end of their day. As things quieted in lower Manhattan and much of the dust cloud lifted, a bucket brigade commenced at Ground Zero. Brave first responders from New York’s fire, police, and rescue squads, along with K-9 companions, re-emerged and descended upon the large, hellish pile of debris. They had returned to the site from which they had just fled, hoping to rescue survivors. What greeted them was a scene of death and destruction. Dan Nigro, Chief of Operations for the FDNY on 9/11, said, “As you got back to the scene and saw what was left of it, it looked like war.”[iii]
Grave and Substantial Losses
Tragically, the day saw over 400 of these brave men and women lose their lives. The totals included 343 New York City firefighters, 37 members of the Port Authority Police Department, 23 members of the New York Police Department, and a dozen other government agents and EMT workers.[iv] Unfortunately, the total number of casualties from 9/11 keeps rising. According to Garrett Graff, “In New York, 9/11-related ailments bedevil the first responders who spent days, weeks, and months cleaning up the wreckage at Ground Zero. All told, more than 7,000 firefighters and EMTs in New York were treated for 9/11-related injuries. New York estimates that 20 percent of those first responders also suffer from PTSD.”[v] As a member of the FDNY, Joe Maurer, spent many hours at Ground Zero searching for any signs of his daughter, Jill Campbell. Jill was our executive assistant. Joe was eventually among those additional casualties due to his spending many hours at Ground Zero in the wake of the attacks. He succumbed to cancer in 2014.
Thank you for your service, Joe! And, thank you to all First Responders around the world. We owe you a constant debt of gratitude.
[i] Garrett Graff, The Only Plane in the Sky (New York: Avid Reader Press, 2019).
[iv] Mitchell Zuckoff, Fall and Rise–The Story of 9/11 (London: HarperCollins, 2019).
[v] Graff, The Only Plane in the Sky.
UNDAUNTED will be published by Koehler Books on September 11, 2021—the 20th Anniversary of 9/11. Pre-orders will be available. I will notify everyone via this website, and via email to those who have signed-up to join the UNDAUNTED community.