MONTVILLE, NJ – Members of the Montville Township Volunteer First Aid Squad gathered at the squad building on Sept. 11 not only for a regular members’ meeting, but also to honor the members of their organization who had responded to Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, attempting to help the victims on that terrible day.
Squad President Vicki Klein requested a moment of silence for the thousands of victims, and then asked members to thank the 15 First Aid Squad (FAS) members who responded and worked hard on and after 9/11.
“Thank you for being a first responder and for your selfless acts of kindness and bravery,” she said. “You are the calm voice amongst the chaos that says ‘everything is going to be ok.’ You see the most terrifying accidents that most could never dream of, but they leave you with nightmares for weeks.”
On that day 17 years ago, 15 members of the squad drove to eastern New Jersey in order to attempt to give aid to the rescue workers in Manhattan. Just the journey was difficult enough, as police had blocked off all east-bound roads, according to FAS member Carol DaCosta. The members were divided into teams in order to give coverage in different areas. DaCosta was teamed up with Julie Goodman Greenfield and Michelle Caggiano Crotty; two fire fighters from Oklahoma City eventually joined them because, they said, “When we had our bombing, the FDNY responded and helped us, and we are going to help them.”
At Liberty State Park the volunteers were paired with doctors, nurses and fire fighters, and brought to Ground Zero, which Greenfield said was eerily quiet.
“There wasn’t a single noise, but there was ‘confetti’ falling from the sky as if it was a ticker-tape parade,” she recalled. “It was just unreal. There was so much ash that they had to use snow plows to clear the streets so we could get through. It just didn’t look real. If you were to see it in a movie, you would say, ‘that’s just fake,’ because it was just surreal.
“There were body parts everywhere, and somehow, we saw the seat cushions from the airplanes, although we didn’t know how they remained intact. There were three-ring binders in the trees. We were given breathing masks but they were useless so we had to take them off.”
DaCosta recalled the tense atmosphere.
“Sometimes they would call out that there were more airplanes coming in or another attack and told us to run,” she said. “No one had any real information. They were afraid that the terrorists would launch an additional attack against the emergency responders. They told us not to let anyone join our team, and not to talk to anyone on the street. They said if we found body parts, shoes, or wallets, to just leave them.”
DaCosta and Greenfield said they were saddened by the fact that there was no victims to be helped, but they were heartened that they were able to lend emotional and medical support to the fire fighters, who were devastated. They performed eye washes and other minor first aid for the emergency workers.
“We were there to lend a shoulder for the fire fighters to cry on, without judgment,” Greenfield said. “They, and we, had never seen anything this bad, and you just needed emotional support for a little while before you could get back to your job.”
Greenfield said that one thing that was also heartening was to see one of the destroyed fire trucks, which was covered in ash, had its emblem polished so others could see it.
“Someone had cleaned it off, just the FDNY emblem,” she recalled.
In the meantime, the team was absolutely covered in the ash.
“It was in our eyes, in our throats, in our noses…” DaCosta said. “It was everywhere.”
The crews worked for about 20 hours and eventually made their way back to their vehicle in NJ. DaCosta said a fire fighter who was ready to relieve her asked her what it was like.
“Imagine the worst situation you’ve ever been in, and multiply it by a million,” she told him.
She then recalled taking a long shower at home and crying for about four hours.
The teams who responded were: Henry Will and Greg Nickel who were stationed at Liberty State Park, and aided two fire fighters who had heart attacks; Kim Polachek, Ed Watters, Pat O’Dowd and Colleen Turo responded to Chelsea Pier; Carl Krofchak and Pradeep Jalan had a second team at Liberty State Park; and Joyce Seipel and Gail D’Allesandro were at Liberty State Park for staging. With the 9-1-1 system down, the teams were told where to go in the boroughs of New York City at a moment’s notice and responded.
The team of 15 were given a thank you plaque from the Jersey City Medical Center, they were awarded a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol by then-U.S. Senator Jon Corzine, and they received a thank you certificate from the FDNY. These currently hang in the FAS building.
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