"It Didn't Seem Real" I live in Eastchester, just north of city, and I've been a volunteer firefighter for the Eastchester fire department for 32 years, since I was 18. My family has been involved with fire department for two generations. Tuesday morning my daughter and I were at home. My brother called me — he used to work for the Port Authority in security in one of the Towers; he just left that job last year. He called me after the first plane hit and told me what had happened. We turned on the television and I was panicking and yelling, running around the house. As we were watching, we saw the second plane come in. We thought it was a replay of the first one. The two of us were getting very worked up. I said to my daughter, 'I can't stay home, I'm just getting nervous.' So we went to my brothers' house, and we all watched what was going on. After a few hours we said, that's it, we have to go in and do something. So we went into the city.
"It Didn't Seem Real" My brother has police officer status, even though he's retired. And between him having his badge, and me having my fire department badge, we got very close to the disaster site. Before we left, my brother had said, make sure you wear long pants and bring a hat, a flashlight, and a Leatherman tool. So I had all of that, and of course I grabbed my camera. I always bring my camera.
"It Didn't Seem Real" We were just drawn there. I had the strangest feeling. We were actually involved at ground zero. We were looking for bodies, we were finding body parts, we were waiting for a body bag to take away a leg. We went into what must have been a ground level room, and there were two firefighters in there. They were deceased. After that, it just hit me: This is real. I couldn't get over the fact that the twin towers were in front of me, but they were on the ground. We were right there with the dogs, walking over the beams, over fires that were still burning.
"It Didn't Seem Real" They were just starting to bring in some of the heavy equipment, moving the cars away. It just seems so surreal. We were just out there searching — it was so quiet. The only thing you heard was the noise of shovels as people with flashlights searched every little crevice, every hole. We worked there from 3 p.m. Tuesday to 3 a.m. Wednesday.
"It Didn't Seem Real" In my days as a firefighter, I've been at some pretty terrible scenes. This was easily the eeriest situation I've ever been in. I kept saying to my brother, "Can you believe we're looking for people? There are so many people just underneath us."
"It Didn't Seem Real" There are thousands of these steel beams that just fell like pickup sticks. I've never seen anything like this — the devastation, the crushed fire trucks. This is beyond comprehension. I don't know how this country is going to deal with this.
"It Didn't Seem Real" We'd hear the dogs bark, and everyone would run over and we'd start pushing as much steel as we could away from the opening, and we'd dig in further and then, when I was there, the dogs would back away. It was a false alarm. Oh, God. It was just overwhelming.
"It Didn't Seem Real" I said I'm here, I have to take these pictures. I didn't know what I was going to do with the photos #&151; I take my camera everywhere. I thought, I need to take pictures of this because I will never, ever see anything like this again in my lifetime.
"It Didn't Seem Real" I didn't want to exploit anyone, just the opposite. My primary goal was to find people. And that's what we were doing, I would just take a second to capture the picture. It didn't interfere with the work at all — we weren't at the heavy lifting phase — we were just looking for people. Some of the pictures I took were from the second floor of the World Financial Center. It was so quiet — I had the strangest feeling, looking out at the devastation — but I couldn't cry. Because it didn't seem real. I thought, I'm going to reach out, and it's going to be a picture. It can't be real. I had planned to go back in, but I'm having some trouble with my eyes after that night. And I saw they were having plenty of people come in, and they didn't really need me. I would have, absolutely, if they said they needed someone. And I would certainly go now. Because now it's all hitting home, becoming reality.
"It Didn't Seem Real" The working conditions were terrible. It was very slippery, and very dangerous. The Red Cross volunteers at the site are wonderful — they had sodas, water, juice and sandwiches. There were people walking into ground zero, handing out water, and I thought that was incredible. The level of morale down there right now is hard to judge. Everyone is very quiet — it was a very eerie feeling. I don't think anyone's registered the magnitude of what's happened yet.