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Stories from Ground Zero
One of the things that we both will be proud of is the amount that we were able to push ourselves, both physically and mentally. Being in a brigade line-up with 50 firefighters unpacking a ship with 40 lb boxes of supplies doesn't seem hard at first, but when the boxes don't end and you're beginning to bruise your arms with the weight and the constant shoving of the boxes, you have to really push yourself to stay there. It becomes a matter of principle not to give up. In the end, both our arms and legs were splattered with bruises from our efforts. And that's something to be proud of.
In fact, not giving up was one of the key elements of our time there. Everything that you do is done on double speed. If you're unloading boxes, you're unloading them as fast as you possibly can. If you're trying to get ice for the men, you're calling frantically to the Javtitz Centre to get the ice. And you want it there n-o-w. It's the constant feeling of immediacy that made it very difficult to take a break. Except for exhausted firemen, no worker would be caught sitting down for ten minutes in those first few days. When you slept, there was a tremendous feeling of guilt that you were resting for a few hours while others were working. We both felt this every day, and we had to keep on reassuring each other that we were doing all we could.
Physically, I would say that the first two days were the hardest. That's when most of the supplies were being unloaded and we'd spend hours in the brigade lines. It was also the dustiest and the fiberglass got into our clothing and itched like crazy. Aimee's fingers started to bleed from the rain and not wearing gloves enough. After a few days though, you seemed not to notice these things or the lack of sleep and showers anymore. You made due with what you had.
Cops Love Donuts?
It was Monday or Tuesday morning and by this point we had completely gotten over any nervousness about being around uniforms. On a daily basis we dealt with the FDNY, NYPD, FBI, National Guard, Army, Air Force (who showed up once and never returned - where are you Airman Sweeney?) and, near the end, OEM and FEMA. One of the things we loved to do was to get to know the different groups.
They weren't that different in the end. As each group arrived at the scene, they would at first be very strict and in control and then after a day or so they would loosen up and start talking with us. Usually a comment like, "Come on, I know how much you Army types like black socks," would get at least a snicker.
One morning we were working the bagel and coffee area when we noticed that there was only one donut left. Kev has a theory that no one is ever willing to take the last donut, so Aimee decided to do a little experiment. She took the donut first to the large group of policemen and teased them about how if they're cops, they've got to love donuts and here's the last donut. Unbelievably, they refused. She wasn't about to give up so she then went over to the FBI agents and told them that that group of NYPD didn't want the donut, which of course meant they couldn't be 'real' cops. Shouldn't the FBI guys be looking into that? This got the FBI to start shouting at the cops asking for ID and telling them they were under suspicion because they didn't eat the donut. Of course, the FBI didn't want the donut either.
There's a saying that cops will eat donuts, and firemen will eat anything. So it was onto the last group in the area, the firemen. We brought them in on the joke as well, but they didn't want anything to do with a donut that was refused by the NYPD.
So the donut returned to the table untouched, but nearly everyone - NYPD, FBI and FDNY - had a smile on their face from joking with each other.
It's amazing what new skills you can pick up working in an emergency situation. We were both trained in how to fit respirator masks onto the men and which masks were appropriate for how deep into the pit they were going. It was astounding to see Aimee standing in front of 8 or 10 firemen and officers who would all be following her movements and instruction to fit their masks and listening solemnly to her warnings not to go all the way into the pit with the pink filtered respirators. They actually trusted her and put their health in her hands. Aimee is shocked that they listened to her.
After working the boot shop for two days, Kevin picked up the knack that was needed in no time. On walking into the boot zone, he could tell whether you needed boots or galoshes, what area of the site you were working in, whether you were on your way in or out, and the size of your feet (give or take a 1/2). He could also tell you in an instant if he had what you needed. At the very least, he could get you to change your socks and insoles, and that always did some good if he didn't have your size in stock.
Stock Exchange Opening
It's not often you get a chance to do a half-assed job for the President. It was nearly 1am on Sunday night (Monday morning) and we were ready to drop. A man appears out of nowhere, picks me as the ringleader of the Flea Market circus, and says that he just got off the phone with President Bush (Oookey) and the President is requesting 2000 dust masks and as many American Flags as we can find to be sent to the SW corner of the Mercantile exchange ASAP. First things first. Who is this kook and do we believe him. He disappeared as fast as he appeared and of course I didn't get his number. So we had very little choice but to take him at his word. I knew we had the masks, but the flags were a problem. I got on the phone to the Javitz center and called Jen, apparently the lady who could get anything. She took down all my information and seemed fairly confident that the flags could get there. Leaving that to her, we concentrated on loading up the masks, and sending them to the Exchange.
After doing what I thought was a good job, I made a nice bed out of socks and fell asleep under the overhang of the AmEx building. At around 5am Kevin and Mario were shaking me awake asking what the name of the lady was who was getting the flags. Apparently she dropped the ball and the flags never made it. Oops. It took me about 3 minutes to get my bearings and then I found the name and her number and left it in Kev's capable hands before falling back into the socks. The flags got there, so all was well.
It would have been funny if we had somehow gotten my hands on 2,000 Canadian flags and had those sent over instead. That I would have stayed up for.
A handful of us were standing at the flea market, trying to figure out the best layout for minimum staffing. One person at the med table, one to watch boots and supplies, which could be placed right next to each other, put food and drinks on the same table, etc, etc.
Then a sparrow fell out of the sky.
I turned when I saw something falling in my peripheral vision, and glanced in time to see it hit the ground. Everyone looked. Conversation stopped. We broke into a run for the supply table, where we knew there were dust masks. Everyone we saw on our way, we shouted for them to put their masks on.
It was scary to think that we had all started to look at the dust masks as an inconvenience. You'd wear it for a while in the morning, but you'd take it off the second you had to talk to someone, and eventually you'd just put it on your head, or the back of your neck, so it was still accessible but out of the way. In moments like that, you really see how important safety is.