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12 Years Ago A Pennsylvania Wine Dealer Drove To Ground Zero To Help With 9/11 Cleanup — Here Are His First Impressions

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Here's what he saw on day one, emphasis ours:

My very first impression of NYC on early Friday morning September14th was of the hundreds of ambulances lining the West Side Highway on my drive downtown. Sadly, these crews would never have the opportunity to help someone as there were few survivors found after the first 48 hours. Arriving at the Canal St barricade on a rainy and gloomy Friday morning, I was directed to the Jacob Javits Center uptown at 34th St. I stopped there briefly.

The scene was wild and chaotic. A bus parking lot had been turned into a staging center/supply depot and their was a giant throng of helmeted construction workers, muscles bulging and testosterone pumping, waiting to be cleared for entry into GZ for duty on the “bucket brigades”. They were amped, boisterous and dying to get on with it. Along the sidewalks were dozens of food trucks/food stands from restaurants all around town passing out hot meals to cops, volunteers and passersby alike. In the sky above, a fighter jet flew in circles. An NYPD official dissuaded me from this scene and directed me again to the Red Cross Center further uptown at 66th and Amsterdam. It was here that I found purpose. The Red Cross was outfitting ERVs (Emergency Response Vehicles) to GZ and the next fleet would be leaving at 6 a.m. the next morning.

Waking at 5 a.m. I was greeted in the basement garage staging area by a chaotic scene. A small crew of blood-shot eyed college age volunteers were trying to assign crews to the Red Cross ERVs. The problem was that in their exhausted state (this was the 94th hour since the attacks) they were having trouble organizing and sorting through the clamoring crowd of a hundred or more. People seemed confused and frustrated with the procedures. Working my way to the front of the crowd, I asked a tired young man with the clipboard exactly what he needed. He explained that each ERV crew needed 4 people: 1 senior Red Cross worker, 1 certified Red Cross driver and 2 assistants. That was all.

I retreated to the back of the crowd, grabbed a box to stand on and announced what I was looking for. Three men came forward. The first, a man in his mid 60s (I forget his name) was a certified RC driver from West Virginia. The senior Red Cross person was Willard Dreisbach from upstate New York and Rod Richardson, a glass sculptor from Manhattan, rounded out the necessary four. We pushed our way back to the front, presented ourselves as the team and were handed the keys to an ERV and a checklist of supplies to load and drive to Public School #234 at Greenwich & Chambers in lower Manhattan, just a couple of blocks from the Trade Towers. Rod later wrote an insightful and accurate account of volunteer activities at Ground Zero for a local NY magazine... The school yard was a supply depot, their cafeteria became a 24/7 feeding center and their hallways lined with clothing bins. The upper floors were used as sleeping areas. In the gym was an impromptu medical clinic. There was so much GZ dust settling day after day on that school, I don’t know how they ever decontaminated it. In the school yard, you could brush the dust off a box and in a few hours the box would be covered again. The dust was a grayish yellow color and was blowing in a steady stream in a north by northeast direction straight up Broadway and streets parallel. Everyone was concerned about it and the poor people who lived in the neighborhood had it blowing their way for weeks (months).

In this “lead, follow or get out of the way” environment, the person somewhat in charge of the school was a young man who took it upon himself to use the abandoned school as a rendezvous spot and supply dump-off. He was there since the beginning and was the “go to” guy. However, he was fading fast when we arrived and within a few days he was removed by the NYPD who demanded he go home and rest. I never saw him again after that. Things like that were common at GZ.

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Basically, we are very lucky this has only happened once in history.

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