Resurrection & Remembrance: The World Trade Center

Carlos Lillo (FDNY, Astoria Station, Queens), Ricardo Quinn (FDNY, Bedford-Stuyvesant Station, Brooklyn), Mario Santoro (Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Manhattan), Keith Fairben (Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Manhattan), Mark Schwartz (Hunter Ambulance), Richard A. Pearlman (Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Queens), David M. Sullins (Cabrini Medical Center, Manhattan), and Yamel Merino (MetroCare Ambulance, The Bronx). These eight people from New York are primarily known today for their heroism as responders who died at the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 while assigned to EMS (emergency medical services) duties.

During the fall of the twin towers, many responder groups, and individual responders, were forced to scatter. In addition, responder vehicles and equipment were lost, unit cohesion collapsed, and the air thickened into an almost opaque fluid. As the world’s visible edge moved closer and closer to the viewer on the street, even several blocks away from the towers, various “shapes” could be seen moving about. It was easy to become convinced that everyone known to be on the scene but not within view was lost. After that, everyone newly found had risen from the dead.

A now iconic photo shows five of these eight responders together. A quick bit of video shows them coming and going into and from the east doors of the North Tower – entering with a stair chair and exiting with patients.

A Message from a Friend: A Reminder for Posterity 

Every September over the last 10 years a number of survivors including this author receive a “birthday” message, from a good friend. It was more than a faux birthday message, though. It was a reminder that each survivor lives today not on borrowed time but on time granted by fate. Like other Americans who lived through that day, every survivor of the World Trade Center tragedy was thrust back into a world completely changed from the one he or she had inhabited in the earlier part of his or her life. The warm and safe world they knew before had suddenly turned cold, unforgiving, and dangerous.

The gift of survival possesses the same randomness as the gift of birth. A career fire officer described the chaotic scene of the WTC attacks this way: “You ran. You ran as far and as fast as you could, in the direction you happened to be pointed. If [that direction] was north, you lived. If it wasn’t … you didn’t.”

The 9/11 attacks were and will remain a seminal event for the U.S. emergency-response community in every state, city, and town in America. Since that date, responders throughout the nation have learned to move more defensively. Scene safety is no longer merely making sure that an emergency vehicle is safely parked and that the police responders also on the scene have the local traffic under control. It now means much more than that – being on constant alert for secondary devices, for example, and for routes of egress, should an immediate escape become a sudden necessity.

The landscape of what-if scenarios also has changed; so has the process of equipping and training emergency crews. There is now an increased emphasis on CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear, and Explosive) hazards, along with a parallel buildup of essential materials and other physical resources – detection systems and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) gear, primarily, particularly at the line-unit level.

Now, ten years after the 9/11 attacks, the take-home message is not that enhanced training and equipment should be made available through a particular department – of course it should – but that enhanced training and equipment should be made available to the individual responder. Moreover, the most important lesson that has been learned is that, when the world is crashing down from all directions, individual responders may have to take action on their own – without direction from command, without a briefing, and without re-supply from a departmental stockpile.

The best way to ensure that the eight responders named above, and the thousands of other innocent victims who perished that same day, did not die in vain is not to join them but to live, to survive, and to continue the fight in their name.

Joseph Cahill
Joseph Cahill

Joseph Cahill is the director of medicolegal investigations for the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. He previously served as exercise and training coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and as emergency planner in the Westchester County (N.Y.) Office of Emergency Management. He also served for five years as citywide advanced life support (ALS) coordinator for the FDNY – Bureau of EMS. Before that, he was the department’s Division 6 ALS coordinator, covering the South Bronx and Harlem. He also served on the faculty of the Westchester County Community College’s paramedic program and has been a frequent guest lecturer for the U.S. Secret Service, the FDNY EMS Academy, and Montefiore Hospital.



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