I thought that the
quickest way to let everyone know I am safe and what happened was to send an
email. This is all very stream of consciousness, but I need to put this
down and get it out. Maybe this will help you get a sense of what it was
First, let me say that the sense of everyone I come in contact with, the desire to help in any way, is so strong it is palpable.
I was on the train when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. We saw it from the window. The man sitting next to me asked if they were filming a movie in New York. I said, no sir, that was real. At that moment we did not know what had happened. I thought maybe is was a news helicopter. By the time we pulled into Penn Station (3 1/2 minutes later) we had news through someone's cell phone that it was a plane.
As a paramedic, I knew that I had to get down there as quickly as possible. Since it was all just unfolding, all subway lines were still running. I jumped on the downtown express and as we were pulling into Chambers Street they announced that the train would not be stopping. They were taking us to Brooklyn and safety. I was distressed, since my goal was to get to the scene, and was trying desperately to think of how I could get back when there was a loud rumble and then a crash and debris started to rain onto the subway car. Tower Two had just collapsed. Overhead we heard the conductor say, "Oh my God, the building is coming down!!!"
We were trapped in the tunnel, smoke was filling the cars and there were no lights to speak of. After what seemed like an eternity, but was really only a matter of a minute or so, the conductor announced that they were able to get the first door of the first car open, and that everyone should move forward and out. There were people crying, people praying and, miraculously, no one had been injured. I then witnessed New Yorkers coming together as they only really do in true emergencies. People assisted each other and everyone was gotten off the train. As I moved through the tunnel to the stairwell, there was another rumble and debris came cascading down the stairwell, following by a huge cloud of dust. People began to panic, but I called to people to turn around and move toward the other stairwell at the opposite end.
The stairs were also
covered in debris, but it was passable. Many people opted to stay in the
station. After I established there were no injuries down there, I opted to
try and make it to the street. Tying a scarf around my mouth and nose, I
navigated the steps up.
When I got to street level I was stunned. Debris, papers, pieces of clothing and dust were raining down. There was already a thick layer of dust on everything, and the sun was completely blotted out. The city had an eerie sense of quiet. I couldn't see, and it was difficult to get my bearings. I heard a voice call out, "Move toward the sound of my voice. There is a building here." I had another woman, her name was Annie, with me. She was hysterical, and I couldn't leave her in the station. We found our way into the lobby of the Pace University dormitory. After assessing people as they came in, coughing and scared but otherwise physically okay, I established that all residents had been moved to the seventh floor, to the apartment of the RA. Annie refused to go upstairs in the building, and she refused to leave the building. She was frozen and quaking in the lobby. After about 4 minutes, one of the building employees came and asked if there was anything he could do. I asked him for water and he produced a gallon jug and some cups.
Finally, I persuaded Annie to go upstairs in the building, and we landed in the offices of an accounting firm. Amazingly, they still had lights and phones. I called the office and spoke with Sarah Ockler and let her know that I was okay, and please let my kids know. I was also able to send an email to my daughter (who, unfortunately, never checked)! And, I called a friend and asked her to get my kids and look after them for me. After about an hour, the office lost phone service.
evacuation. I knew we would have to leave and make plans to get everyone
out of the city. Since we were so close to the Brooklyn Bridge, I
suggested that everyone stay together, walk over the bridge, and find
transportation from there. I made packs for everyone to carry. The
office had bottles of water, and pretzels and candy bars. After that was
prepared, I advised them I would not be going with them. I knew I was
needed as a medic. Another member of the staff was trained in first aid
and volunteered to come with me. I asked that they look out for Annie and
make sure that she had a way home. I was assured she would be taken care
of. I made sure everyone had a pack, and comfortable shoes and we walked
down. At the corner I said good-bye to my new friends and went directly to
New York Downtown Hospital. From the hospital, we could see the burning
remains of WTC up the block.
Having worked there in the past, as soon as I arrived I met lots of old friends. Donning a respirator mask I did patient triage for the next five hours. To triage is to make a quick assessment of the illness or injury, separate them, and then treat in the order of severity. Since New York Downtown was the closest hospital (but only a level 2 trauma center) patients were then transported to St. Vincent's, Bellevue and Hospital for Joint Diseases. I kept the list to be sure we knew who we had seen, and where they went.
When the number of patients started to slow down, I began making lists of all staff, when they came on duty and how long they could stay. It was important to determine when to give people relief. Once you get tired, mistakes can happen. We knew relief staff would be difficult to get since access to the city was limited.
During the course of the day, many volunteers came down to offer assistance. Medically trained personnel were absorbed immediately. Other volunteers were utilized to push wheelchairs and stretchers to incoming ambulances, and transport people within the hospital.
sheets and helping hose down incoming firemen and policemen who were covered
with the debris that was blowing everywhere. As the day wore on, staff and
volunteers began to outnumber patients. Residents in the area came to the
hospital to donate blood and, finally, were so numerous that they were
redirected to St. Vincent's or Bellevue. The hospital ran out of blood
There was a small ATV that would periodically arrive from the scene to transport personnel and supplies to the site itself. I worked at the hospital until approximately 3:00 a.m. when the ATV came in for supplies and said he needed assistance. I went with him to off load supplies and arrived at the site for the first time.
I was struck by a sense of surrealism. In order to get there, we had to negotiate this little vehicle over fire hoses, down blocks that were impassable to any other kind of vehicle. There were cars burned and tossed like children's toys.
Directly across from the site was the upended twisted remains of a fire truck leaning against the building. Next to it, a burned out City Bus. Small fires were everywhere, and the mud was ankle deep. Papers were still flying in the wind and there were pieces of twisted metal and shards of glass. We went directly to the site between the two towers, only to find that they needed O Negative blood immediately.
A victim had been found, trapped, and was bleeding internally. They needed to stabilize the patient while working on the tedious job of extrication. I ran back to the vehicle and we went to Bellevue Hospital for the blood and administration sets necessary. It took forever to get there and back because the vehicle could only go 15 miles per hour. Upon returning with the blood, we were dispatched to return to Bellevue and get an amputation set.
It had been determined that the only way to extricate him was to amputate his legs. Negotiating the small vehicle through ground zero, I said we needed to get a faster vehicle to make it up to Bellevue and back. We went to the closest EMS station and I had an ambulance bring me to the hospital.
The plan was to use the ambulance to get to Bellevue and then come back for the ATV to make it to the site. After getting the equipment and drugs necessary for the amputation, I returned to the ambulance and asked how close they thought they could get the ambulance to the site. The crew was willing to try to get as close as possible. We got within a block and then I jumped out and ran to the site. I brought the kit, and had to climb the 60 feet down into the hole to deliver it.
Just as they were preparing to amputate the legs,
a beam shifted and we were able to pull him out without removing his legs.
He was lifted out onto a stokes stretcher and passed down the long daisy
chain of volunteers to the awaiting stretcher and ambulance a block away.
Cheers went through the crowd when he was placed upon the stretcher.
We had gotten one out alive almost 21 hours after the explosion!!!!!
After that, I helped in the arduous task of slowly sifting through the wreckage in the hopes of finding other survivors. The call for "Medic" ran through the air as dogs sniffed and barked. I bagged body parts as they were found. Oddly enough, the physical aspect of the reality, seeing the actual remains of the victim, was not nearly as bad as the strewn rubble. The opened date book with the words, "Lunch with Mary." The family photo in the crushed frame laying the mud. A coffee cup with the name Steve lying on its side. The eyeglasses frame. Evidence that these were real people with real lives just like you and I.
The temperature dropped and everyone was cold and wet. Overcoats and raincoats were pulled from the large Brooks Brothers Store across the street and distributed. It was the best dressed rescue crew I ever saw. Armani suits and Burberry overcoats. As the sun came up, they brought in heavy machinery to lift the large debris and begin the digging toward the basement levels.
I then moved back to the street in front of the building to treat firemen and rescue workers who would become temporarily overcome by the smoke and dust that was whipping through the air. I performed lots of eye irrigations and administered oxygen. As the day began to unfold, many more volunteers arrived.
Poland Springs (bless them) arrived with truck loads of water
which was distributed liberally. Everyone was encouraged to drink to avoid
dehydration and soothe scratchy throats. Red Cross and many other
volunteers brought in food -- sandwiches, pizza, rolls -- food kept arriving.
Unfortunately, it had to get eaten quickly since everything was
continually being covered in dust. It was the crunchiest cheese sandwich I
ever ate. Packaged candies and granola bars were everywhere.
The sun began to beat down and heat the scene up even more. Thousands of volunteers were milling about, hoping to find ways to help. Heavy machinery was now everywhere, since they had succeeded in clearing up some of the side streets. Medical teams that had been stationed in the building at One Liberty Plaza began to move outdoors, and that space was converted to a makeshift morgue.
I was treating a fireman for smoke inhalation when suddenly there were three blasts from the sirens, which was the code to evacuate immediately. It appeared One Liberty Plaza had begun to buckle and the building was going to come down. Placing the fireman and oxygen tank on the stretcher, we pushed him down the block through ankle deep mud to a waiting ambulance, eager to depart as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, my bag with all my identification and money and clothes was left behind. People began to run and fear was high. No one wanted to suffer the fate of the initial rescuers. When we were about half way up the street, a small Cessna plane passed overhead. The street was lined with army personnel with M-16's. When the plane can into view they all dropped to their knees and aimed up. Since radio communication was limited, it was a very tense moment. Then I heard the shouted order to stand down.
The Cessna was an
approved aircraft, brought in to make a building assessment from the air.
They kept pushing us further north, up to Chambers Street. I stayed near the fire and police chief so I could listen to their radios.
The building inspector was due to arrive any moment and make a determination. I ran into some medical personnel who said they were setting up a medical area on Chambers and West Street. I was heading in that direction, when I ran into some firemen I knew.
I wanted desperately to get back to the site and retrieve my bag. They already knew that the building was going to be declared stable and I went back to the site with them. Many of the volunteers did not return when the all clear was given. Of course, no one wanted to intentionally put themselves into harm's way. When I arrived back at the scene, they had moved all the medical supplies to a corner and were bulldozing the site where I had left my bag.
After an extensive search, I realized that my bag must have been bulldozed into the rubble and was unrecoverable. I helped to set up a new site for on site medical treatment and decided that after 34 hours it was time to go home and hug my kids. My only problem was how do I get there with no money or identification? I knew that the Long Island RR was running so I asked some friends in a St. Vincent's ambulance if they would be willing to drive me up to Penn Station. They said sure.
When I arrived at Penn Station, in paper scrubs, a hard hat, a respirator mask around my neck and covered in dust, I realized that the rest of the world had been going on as usual. I knew I looked a sight but was too tired to worry about it. I was approached by two police officers who were anxious for news from the site. I gave them a quick run down and then explained my plight. My commuter ticket was also in my lost bag. They told me, "No problem" and escorted me down to my train. The conductor said, "Hop on, and thanks for helping." As I stepped onto the train, people looked up at me and stared. I began to feel self conscious, and then someone stood up and started clapping. Suddenly everyone was clapping and saying things like, "Thanks so much for doing what we wanted to."
Everyone wanted so badly to help in some way, they just didn't
know how. I took the train home and realized that my car keys were also in
my bag. I walked over to the cab company who generously sent me home in a
When I walked in my door, my daughter ran to me and collapsed sobbing into my arms. My son rushed out of his room and hugged me and kissed me in relief. I had been able to get only two messages out in two days and they were worried sick. I heard about all the messages and calls from people I know, worried and anxious to hear. I can't tell you how loved I feel. I have spent the day making phone calls (when I can get a line out) and sending emails.
This morning, I got a call from Gigi who said that a woman had called and she had my bag. I went up to the Bronx to retrieve it and thanked her profusely. She said she saw it just sitting there when everyone began to run and figured it might belong to the crew that was moving the patient. She had gone to the medical station on Chambers and West Street but didn't see me. So, she found one of my business cards and called the office.
I have heard people say that I am a hero. I don't think I have done anything anyone wouldn't have done, given the circumstances. I was just in a better position to help than most. There are thousands of volunteer heroes out there right now and my thoughts and prayers are with them. And, to all the families and friends of those who are the victims of this horrible tragedy.
heartfelt message brought tears to my eyes... please, share this message with
everyone you possibly are able to... as it truly depicts the honest to
goodness American Spirit.
God Bless You... Debi Ryan. ...rfm