Administration and Leadership, Major Incidents, Terrorism & Active Shooter, Training

EMS Responders Share Untold Stories of 9/11

Issue 9 and Volume 36.

This month marks a decade since that awful day in September of 2001 that changed America and its emergency responders forever. We lost hundreds that day and many more since then due to illnesses incurred in the toxic atmosphere and debris that was present during their entrapment and fight to survive, and during the search for survivors and recovery of the deceased.

In 2001, JEMS developed a special print supplement (Courage Under Fire) after interviewing EMS responders, primarily those involved in the collapse of the World Trade Center. That award-winning account of the EMS response is still available online.

However, in 2001, we provided few details of the tremendous response and management of the near simultaneous incidents that occurred at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., and in Shanksville, Pa. And almost no mention was made of the massive EMS response that occurred in New Jersey when a flotilla of boats evacuated thousands of victims and citizens from the dense cloud of smoke and debris that blanketed Manhattan.

Because of this, because of how much can now be told about the incidents that occurred that day in 2001, and because of the many aftereffects—physical, emotional and operational—Teresa McCallion, EMT-B, editor of our EMS Insider newsletter and management network, and I interviewed responders from each incident. We asked some direct and personal questions to see how each incident affected their agency, and more importantly, them, on and since 9/11.
We revisited many of the people we first met 10 years ago and then again five years later for our special 9/11 section in September 2006. Some are still in their same posts, while others have been promoted. Some chose to retire, and a few were forced to leave their jobs because of conditions they incurred on 9/11.

What I believe we’ve developed for you as a result of months of interviews, transcriptions and follow-up discussions, is a factual, insightful and important historical account of some of the most complex and stressful responses in EMS history.

Packaged in an electronic and downloadable format, Out of the Darkness, will debut on the morning of September 11 and will present you with first-person accounts from responders who were thrust into the world spotlight that morning when terrorists invaded their response districts—and their lives—and changed the way they, and most responders throughout the world, think, train, respond and live today.

We worked hard to deliver the personal perspectives of key 9/11 responders, weaving together important facts and events of the three disasters and presenting the positive and negative effects of those events on EMS agencies and their personnel.     

We pieced together never-before heard facts and accounts from 9/11, and more importantly, reached into the hearts and minds of the people who had “boots on the ground,” when a beautiful sunny day was turned to near-complete darkness for many providers.

Some of the responders featured in Out of the Darkness had small roles, while others had daunting command, control, patient care or communications responsibilities. They agreed to speak with us about their experiences, actions and lessons learned, not to bring attention to them individually, but to properly pass history and the torch of preparedness and response on to a new generation of responders.

Most have seen their physical scars diminish. But it was clear to us as we interviewed them that few will ever lose the emotional scars they were left with that awful day.

We laughed with them, ate with them and cried with several of them as they reflected not just on the events of that awful day, but also on how their daily operations, training, equipment and lives have changed since then.

For those who were involved in EMS operations on 9/11 who were touched by it and affected by it, that experience has become a sacred event that has bonded them together in a special fraternity of responders.

I want to give special thanks to the sponsors of our 9/11 coverage. Their support allowed us to personally meet with personnel involved in each incident, listen to their experiences, but, most importantly, present to you the many lessons they learned on, and after, 9/11.

It has been our honor to meet with these participants in the most tragic day in EMS and present this extensive compilation of first-hand experiences to you.

We’re privileged these responders allowed us into their emotional world and were willing to give JEMS permission to tell you their experiences, lessons learned and feelings about 9/11. JEMS

This article originally appeared in September 2011 JEMS as “Voices Never Heard: Reflections on 9/11—a decade later.”

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