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Tragedy in New York - a paramedic's view

American Studies Today Online
A colleague from Hunter College in New York has sent us this personal account from one of her students who is also a paramedic, James Creedon
Posted 20th September 2001

Hello all

Thank you very much for the many *many* notes of support and condolence. Things are very difficult here in New York City, and I'm just trying to keep on top of things. I thought I would share a bit about what happened to me on September 11th, 2001--to answer questions, and let you know a little bit more about the events here

I woke up Tuesday morning to the radio, and heard that a building had been struck by an airplane. I honestly thought it was a historical piece about the B-52 bomber that hit the Empire State Building back in the 1940's.

Once I knew the real deal, that two planes had struck, I put my uniform on and headed off to my station. We were on "recall", and were required to be in duty. As I drove to work, I got diverted into the Battery Tunnel, and found myself about 4 blocks south of World Trade Center. I parked my car, and walked up to the front staging area to find my lieutenant. Once I found him, he set me up with a helmet and some medical gear. He set off to help coordinate triage, and I went to make contact with another unit. From where I was standing, it was about half a block to WTC 1 (North Tower). I could see flames and smoke billowing out of the building, and debris was landing all around me. There were body parts scattered on the ground, and it was pretty clear how bad things were.

Moments later, I heard an enormous roar and felt the ground shaking. I looked up to the tower, and saw what looked like an umbrella being opened up - like a starburst at the fireworks. I was directly underneath it, and I could see girders shooting out from the building. I immediately began to run southwest, towards a building that had some sort of opening. I already felt rocks landing on my back and helmet, and there were girders falling right near me. I made it perhaps thirty feet before being knocked off my feet. I went about ten feet through the air, and landed rolling on a set of steps. My helmet was gone, my phone, my stethoscope.

This was the scariest moment of my life. The air was black with ash and debris, and I literally couldn't see a thing. People were screaming, and some were clearly seriously injured. We couldn't breathe, and our mouths eyes and noses watered and burned.

I stayed crouching on the ground, covering my head, and breathed through my shirt. A few minutes later, the smoke began to clear and I was able to make out a few other figures. We held on to each other, and were able to make it to a restaurant where we started gathering water for eye flushes. Ambulances and fire trucks were overturned, walkways were collapsed, and people were running and screaming. After a half-hour of giving out water, I started to help out with moving other people to the waterfront where we were loading them onto boats and ferries. But soon we had to clear out from there also because the second tower was coming down. I was holding a 3-year-old girl at the time, and we lost sight of her mother. We all ran as hard as we could, while we tried to carry as many people as couldn't make it. There were many injuries, and many more people with smoke inhalation or blindness. Eventually, we regrouped on a pier farther southeast, and got more people loaded up to bring them to New Jersey. I helped here for a while, and ended up taking one of the last boats to NJ to help with triage and treatment there, by order of my supervisor. An hour or two later, I was redeployed to Manhattan, but I was then taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries. Luckily, I got off well. I have a sprained ankle, twisted knee, miscellaneous burns and abrasions, and had to have glass and gravel removed from my arms and back.

That night I stayed in the hospital on semi-active duty, and this morning (Wednesday) I worked a 911 shift uptown and then went down to Ground Zero to assist with rescue efforts. Overall, I feel very lucky. Many of us thought there would be chemical/biological agents in the explosion, but thus far we are in the clear. I have made it out in one piece, but the same cannot be said for many others. Especially sad and difficult to me is the loss of two members of my own team. They were killed in collapse of WTC 2 (South Tower), along with hundreds of other rescuers.

Tonight, I want to thank all of you for your calls and emails. I feel honored to have been in your thoughts and prayers, and am unspeakably grateful for each and every friendship that has revealed itself. But more importantly, I ask that you keep the in your thoughts the lives and sacrifices of the many rescue workers. I have lost friends, and I can honestly say that they were some of the most caring, deeply committed, and selfless people I have ever met. Finally, I want to urge all of us to remember the complexities of the world we live in. This is a tragic act, one that has destroyed or forever altered the lives of countless people. It is also an act that occurs in particular context, one in which the United States is guilty of this exact same kind of crime, only on a greater and more gruesome scale. Let us take from this the inspiration to create a world free from imperialism in all its manifestations, one that moves us from the civil war that is capitalism to a higher form of society.

With love and rage, James Creedon

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