Reflecting On 9/11
On September 11, 2001, the Urban Park Service Academy was conducting its second day of training classes at Battery Park City. We had approximately 27 new recruits that morning, expecting classroom instruction on the topics that would help them become properly trained Park Enforcement Patrol Officers, Rangers, or Central Communications Dispatchers. These officers were scheduled for an 8x4pm tour.
When the first plane hit the North Tower, a Battery Park City PEP Officer called over the radio and announced what had happened. Inspector Robert Reeves and I went outside of the command, which is located three blocks south of the Towers. We immediately saw the damage that was done. There was fire and smoke coming out of the building. We initially thought that this incident was accidental. We paired up the officers and sent them on patrol to assist emergency service units with traffic control. These eager new recruits happily volunteered to this assignment.
When the second plane hit the South Tower, we started to regroup the officers and redeployed them to clear West Street and South End Ave, so that emergency vehicles responding to the area could easily gain access. While we did this, Inspector Reeves left his vehicle parked by Ground Zero and when he returned the vehicle was damaged so badly by debris from the towers that it was totaled.
PEP units from all citywide commands now started responding to the area to assist with the situation. The Inspector and I did a quick muster to ensure that we accounted for all of our officers. We were missing two. We didn’t know where they were. As the hours passed, we began to fear the worst. Perhaps they were in the rubble. Perhaps they went inside the buildings to assist NYPD and FDNY. We could not locate these officers for several hours. Luckily we had officer information sheets on file. We started calling their homes. Later that night we made contact with these officers. Both were in shock and had walked to their individual residences. These officers did return the next day and although they were a bit more traumatized then the rest of us they stayed with us throughout the next two weeks at Ground Zero and assisted with our endeavors.
Throughout this day the Urban Park Service Personnel assisted with evacuating people from the World Trade Center area. We provided first aid to some, a shoulder to cry on to others. We also opened our command and set up a triage area. We asked for volunteers with first aid knowledge from the group of people who came into the command. There was a nurse and a doctor in the group. We had these individuals assist us with providing first aid to anyone who needed it.
Once we set up the triage area at our command, we resumed patrols and assisted with evacuating South End Avenue of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. We then moved onto to West Street and did the same at this location. We continued with traffic control and could not believe our eyes when we saw so many desperate people jumping from the towers due to the flames that had engulfed the floors they were on. We silently watched people drop to their deaths, some holding hands, some just flailing in the wind. We could do nothing for these individuals, and there was a feeling of complete despair and hopelessness.
As we were returning to South End Avenue, we got word that the South Tower was coming down. We found a large group of people by Liberty and South End Avenue. We evacuated this area immediately. When we returned about an hour later there was debris from the buildings all over the place.
Once we evacuated the people from Battery Park City, we were asked to muster at Pier 40, located at Hudson River Park, so that we could regroup and receive new assignments. We met with our fellow officers and were glad to see friendly familiar faces.
UPS personnel (PEP, Rangers and Communications) who responded to the scene were all addressed by UPS Chief Alexander Brash and Assistant Commissioner Jack Linn at Pier 40. Chief Brash had coordinated with NYPD and FDNY. He ordered the Parks Command Bus to Pier 40 for assistance with communications and logistics, and announced that we would be assisting these units with maps and getting around the property. We also assisted with setting up a helipad at Nelson Rockefeller Park.
On 9/11/01, we stayed throughout the night and went home only to shower and change before coming back to resume patrols. For the next two weeks the Academy staff along with citywide PEP, Rangers and Communications personnel assisted with escorting residents to their homes. We rescued a multitude of pets that were left behind by their owners when they first fled the area. We also escorted many residents of lower Manhattan to their homes to retrieve important documents and necessary medications. Some of these residents lived on higher floors and there was no electricity. We escorted them with flashlights and radios, guiding them as high as 20 or 30 floors.
The Urban Park Service officers did a tremendous job throughout this time. Some were assigned to the command bus to ensure we were able to communicate with each other. Our radios were one of the few of emergency services that continued to work properly throughout this time. They also managed the paging system keeping everyone informed of necessary information. The Rangers and the Park Enforcement and Central Officers worked around the clock from Pier 40 and throughout the Battery Park City confines. Some just held post at check points, most assisted with the escort of the many residents who needed to get to their homes to retrieve pets/IDs and medication.
I am aware that other parks employees assisted with the efforts at Ground Zero. I can only speak of the Officers that I worked alongside with throughout this horrific event. Their heroism, dedication and assistance brought some relief to those who were affected by this disaster. I am proud to say that the Urban Park Service Unit all came together and did a wonderful job on 9/11/01 and the days that followed.
“As only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight,
you’ll live through the night.”
(1893 – 1967)