No magazine page, no book,
no summation could ever properly outline the tip of
the iceberg that was the EMS response on Sept. 11, 2001.
Recounting the moments experienced by thousands of personnel
who committed themselves to that days events will
Nine days removed from the
horror, we begin the process. What follows is a selection
of stories from EMS providers who found themselves thrown
into the chaos of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon
and a barren field in Pennsylvania. These individualswho
reflect our diverse EMS familyshared their stories
with us openly and in the spirit of helping their fellow
brothers and sisters. Each narrative, in and of itself,
bears unique witness, allowing us readers to digest
a piece of the madness one voice at a time.Lisa
Dionne, Editorial Director, JEMS
I was in the police academy 25 miles north of the World
Trade Center. The academy director came into class and
told us, Terrorists have attacked the World Trade
Centera plane has flown into it. We thought
it was some kind of terrorist training exercise until
he took us to a TV in a nearby room.
Soon we wound up in the debris,
digging for any possible survivors. Both towers had
collapsed. It was chaotic and dark. There was smoke
everywhere from fires burning and five inches of ash
on the groundit was like walking in slushy snow.
I figured out where I was when I visualized the remains
of Engine 10 and Ladder 10 right in front of methe
station had been destroyed. I also saw a row of 15 ambulances
that had staged as part of the first wave responding
to the first crash. They were crushedcompletely
gutted by falling debris.
At one point, we were digging,
and I slipped and almost fell 45 feet into a hole. Another
time, I looked up from digging to see a traffic light
hanging over my head by its wire. In my excitement,
I forgot all about scene safety10-second scene
survey, etc. Forgot or didnt care. I dont
know. I really had no business being in there.
Im sure the critics will
say it was haphazard, that there were too many rescuers.
But desperate times breed desperate measures: We were
looking not for victims but for friends. I hope the
Rescue Randys of the world dont start their Monday
morning quarterbacking when this is all over. There
wasnt a single person on scene operating at 100%
mentally. Everyone there was in some level of shock,
and Im sure it affects your thinking, your reactionshow
could it not? Physically, though, everybody ran at 150%.
By 9 p.m. that night, I was so
hungry. I hadnt eaten all day. Someone who owns
a bagel store showed up with hundreds of bagels and
orange juice. I got a wet, soggy potato knish. It tasted
like lobster and steak. As I ate, it occurred to me
that all the crap raining down on us could be toxic,
that perhaps I was standing in a huge hazmat zone. But
I didnt give a shit: I wanted that knish. More,
I think I wanted control. Control had been taken away
from all of us. Those of us in this field want to helpwe
want to make it all better. But on Tuesday,
I got home around 4 a.m. and cried
like a baby. Took three showers and still smelled like
smoke. On Wednesday, I was nursing a head cold and runny
nose when someone mentioned that the Office of Emergency
Management was testing the debris for anthrax. Flu-like
symptoms day one; feel great day two; drop dead day
three. And there I was sniffling.
I remembered that the shoes Id
worn to the World Trade Center were at home. I freaked
and called a friend to go to my house and take them
outside where no dust residue could hurt my kids. It
turned out to be a false alarm. These rumorsall
derivatives of stories you hear in domestic preparedness
trainingtake on a life of their own.
John Hanchar, NREMT-P,
police officer, Rockland County, N.Y., is a former FDNY
paramedic and a former tech advisor for Third Watch.
He also worked at the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Shortly after two commercial airliners crashed into
the twin towers of the World Trade Center, University
Hospital EMS, Newark, N.J., began a recall of its Special
Operations Group. By 10:20 a.m. a task force consisting
of four BLS units, two ALS units, one mass casualty
response unit (MCRU), one logistical support unit and
two division commanders left EMS headquarters in Newark
en route to the Holland Tunnel to fulfill our assigned
role in the N.J./N.Y. mutual aid agreement.
While en route, the task force
was diverted to the Hoboken Port Authority Trans Hudson
(PATH) complex, one mile north of the Holland Tunnel.
This diversion was prompted by intelligence that a large
number of victims were self-evacuating from New York
City by public transport.
Arriving at the Hoboken Terminal,
we were briefed by the EMS branch director and told
that at least 200 victims of the WTC incident were expected
to arrive at the facility. The task force went to work,
immediately providing support to Hoboken EMS, and a
triage station and treatment areas were deployed from
the MCRU in short order.
The Hoboken PATH station normally
serves as a New Jersey Transit train station and a commuter
ferry dock. When the task force arrived, the facility
was still bustling with commuter traffic from other
points in Manhattan not affected by the explosions and
subsequent collapses. Our first concern was that patients
arriving from the affected area would be allowed to
commingle with non-affected commuters, and we wouldnt
be able to capture patients in need of care. This was
mitigated by explaining the importance of the issue
to the senior officials of New Jersey Transit and having
them shut the station to all train and pedestrian traffic.
We realized early in the incident
that these were acts of terrorism. Armed with knowledge
gained during the 1993 WTC incident, we felt the victims
could have been contaminated by a chemical or biological
agent, toxic industrial chemicals or construction material,
such as asbestos.
Therefore, incident commanders
determined the establishment of a decontamination corridor
would be necessary to screen all arriving evacuees and
patients. We requested a hazmat team through the IC.
The short-term solution was for the Hoboken Fire Department
to deploy two handlines to serve as a temporary decon
We knew the patients we were expecting
would come by ferry. To prevent these patients from
escaping our decon system, the entrance to the terminal
was closed, and all pedestrian traffic from the ferry
dock was diverted to a holding pen we constructed using
police barricades already at the scene.
When the first group of 300 patients
arrived, they were covered with a dry, white powder.
We placed them into the holding area and processed them
two at a time through the handline decon.
The first formal hazmat assets
(Nutley Fire Department and Middlesex County Hazmat)
arrived on scene and set up mass decon tents. After
the tents were operational, the handlines were demobilized,
and we began to process patients in earnest. With the
resources and knowledge of these two hazmat agencies,
we were able to process 1015 patients rather than
two at a time. This resulted in our ability to decon
almost 300 victims per hour.
While the decon was being accomplished,
personnel were deployed with chemical agent monitors
to ascertain the risk level the victims presented to
rescuers. All readings were negative, confirming that
the contaminant was building materials or asbestos.
It wasnt long before the
first non-ambulatory victims arrived and were processed
through a separate non-ambulatory decon area. During
non-ambulatory decon, patients were placed on spine
boards, stripped, washed and re-clothed before being
transferred to triage and treatment areas. Many of the
victims were cleared for release by on-scene physicians;
approximately 70 were transported to area hospitals.
Its difficult to confirm
the exact number of victims decontaminated, triaged
and treated. Our traditional method of using predetermined
packs of triage tags worked until the third hour of
operations when we used our last tag. At that point
we had utilized 1,400 tags. We continued to receive,
decontaminate and treat victims for at least seven hours
after depletion of our tags.
This was a valuable learning experience.
Most of our MCI planning had focused on large transportation
incidents. I dont think there was anyone who ever
thought there might be the necessity to triage and decontaminate
thousands of victims in one day. Had we considered the
fact that we were indeed the parking lot
for New York with the potential to receive 300 evacuees
and patients at a time in ferry boats, perhaps we would
have approached our planning differently.
Eugene J. ONeill, NREMT-B is the lead
instructor for the Domestic Preparedness/Hazardous Materials
Planning and Training Unit at University Hospital EMS,
I had already seen the first tower get hit on the news
that morning. I was actually en route to a fire in Rosalyn
(Va.) when the Pentagon was attacked. On my way out
the door of the fire station, I warned my crew to stay
alert. One of them just looked at me and said, This
is Arlington. Nothing like that will ever happened here.
When I saw him later that day at the incident, he told
me hed never say anything like that again.
Engine 101 actually saw the jetliner
plow into the northwest side of the Pentagon. The radio
crackled, Engine 101emergency traffic, a
plane has gone down into the Pentagon.
I made a quick U-turn and was
on scene within a minute to a minute and a half of the
initial impact. En route, I remembered my wife was scheduled
to be on a flight to Dulles at 10 a.m.
People were just leaving their
vehicles on Highway 110 and staring in disbelief. I
wanted to put myself in a position where we wouldnt
be threatened by a secondary explosion. I set up triage,
treatment and transport sectors in a grassy area on
a hill with a good vantage point of the incident. I
special ordered 20 paramedic units and a bus for the
walking wounded, along with a couple of helicopters.
We werent alone on scene.
There was an outpouring of help from military personneldoctors,
nurses, paramedics, EMTs, stretcher bearers. I also
requested the response of our north EMS supervisor,
Capt. Alan Dorn. He arrived quickly and did a fantastic
job of managing these areas and coordinating with the
militarys medical personnel. Chief James Bonzano
arrived on scene and established an official EMS division.
Five or six minutes after my arrival,
I traveled alongside the structure and came upon 13
serious burn victims. Many of them also had shrapnel
wounds. There was one guyI couldnt tell
if he was Army or Marine Corp. because his uniform was
so badly burnedwho had used his hands to shield
his face from the shrapnel, and his fingers had been
cut clean off. But he wouldnt let us treat him
until we helped the others.
As we tended to those 13 wounded,
we received an order to evacuate the area because of
reports that another jet was coming up the Potomac.
We all agreed we werent
going to leave those patients, so we switched to a rapid
transport mode. We put multiple patients in Medics 102
and 105 and a park service helicopter and told them
to just go to the hospitalwith limited on-scene
We were fortunate in many ways.
All our off-duty officers were at a mandatory seminar
in Arlington, so they were within two minutes of the
Pentagon. We also had other staff attending a nearby
International Monetary Fund planning meeting. The military
personnel on scene were extremely helpful in keeping
the scene organized.
To aid in transport efforts, we
had the police clear Highway 110 in both directions
so we would have free highway access for rapid patient
One problem we had was keeping
military personnel away from the crash site. They felt
compelled to try to run in and save their buddies, but
the building was heavily involved in the fire. We had
to use firefighters to help restrain them.
Once we did get inside, we were
able to see the destruction for ourselves. It was extensive
on the interior because of the inertia of the fire and
fuel once the jet entered beyond the outer ring. The
skin of the building doesnt tell you squat about
the damage. There were some areas where people hadnt
even been burned, but were killed by the forced inhalation
We had 10 different fire and EMS
agencies officially involved in the incident, and it
went as well as it possibly could have. Like at any
large incident, units self-dispatched themselves to
the incident. Although only 20 units were officially
requested, we ended up with 75 units on a scene that
generated 92 patients.
Ed Blunt, Fire and EMS Captain, Arlington
County (Va.) Fire Departmentinitial Pentagon EMS
We received the initial dispatch for plane down,
Skyline Drive at Lambertsville Road at 10:06,
Sept. 11, 2001. EMS units were dispatched from both
Somerset and Cambria counties, Pa. I was on the second
unit to arrive (station 900, based in Somerset, Pa.).
The first unit to arrive was station 902, based in Stoystown,
While en route to the scene, we
requested that medical helicopters be dispatched. We
also notified local hospitals to prepare for a possible
mass casualty situation. As part of this preparation,
the hospitals dispatched physicians directly to the
On scene, we assessed the crash
site and immediately determined there were no survivors.
At that time, neither the size of the aircraft nor the
number of victims who had been on board could be determined.
Because there were no survivors,
and in view of the events that had just unfolded in
New York City and Washington, D.C., there was a concern
that chemical or other lethal agents could be present
at the scene. Because of this, all other EMS units,
medical helicopters and physicians were canceled. Despite
the cancellation, three to six EMS units, a physician
from Conemaugh Hospital and our medical director did
arrive on scene. All rescuers were warned to exercise
extreme caution at the scene.
Local firefighters identified
a number of small hot spots and fires in the area. When
law enforcement agencies arrived on scene, they quickly
marked the perimeter of the crash site, restricted access
to the location and established a command post for the
We set up an EMS sector at the
command center with the objective of ensuring the safety
of the investigators and others expected to work at
the scene in the weeks ahead.
My prayers and blessings are with
those who perished on Flight 93, their families and
loved ones. There was a strong sense within the command
post that there were several heroes on board this plane.
Jill Miller, EMT-P, Manager, Somerset Area
Ambulance Association Inc.