Monday, September 12, 2011

9-11: The Forgotten Responders

Yesterday we remembered and honored those lost on September 11, 2001. Families, friends, co-workers, and the nation gathered through-out the country to speak of those forever gone, but not forgotten. Memorial across this great country of ours weer unveiled, wreaths laid and speeches given. Yes, it was a day to remember.

So why did I name this blog the forgotten responders? Which group of first line personnel on duty that terrible day has been left out of the limelight? Which set of personnel did their job under some of the worst circumstances imaginable?

The Public Safety Dispatchers of New York City, NY; Washington D.C.; and Shanksville, PA were faced with an events beyond what they had ever dealt with before. Not only did the dispatchers have to maintain a professional calm to handle their jobs, but in the case of Washington, D.C. and New York City, they were required to send help for the help. Who could ever plan for such an event?

There are two basic unwritten rules in Public Safety. The first rule is 'Don't become a victim'. The second rule is 'Don't forget rule number one'. Nonetheless, most of the law enforcement, firefighters, and ems personnel refused to abandon their jobs when the scene became too dangerous. In New York City, that duty to act was tripled when the towers became unstable and finally collapsed. Fellow field personnel who could call for help over radios did so, or in the case of those unable to call for help, but whose alarms went off, needed rescuing.

Dispatchers would have heard the radio traffic. No dispatcher worth his or her salt could have listened to the chaos and not done all they could, but what do you do when you've just lost a significant number of your personnel and equipment? Granted, in emergency situations, all non-emergency calls to the City are halted, but emergencies must still be handled.

What do you tell callers on 9-1-1 lines who are trapped, knowing they will die? What do you tell people who are pleading for answers, screaming in agony and hoping for miracles? Only a dispatcher who's spoken to another person dying on a phone line can even start to imagine the magnitude of that day. The first responders were on scene and saw unspeakable horrors, but the dispatchers had to talk to the victims  only imagining what was happening on the other side of the phone.

Now those 9-1-1 personnel are living with that day. They have their nightmares, their baggage is just as big.

I want to say to each of them, thank you. ten years later, you did one hell of a job in the worst conditions. All Americans pray no one will ever go through that again.

Stay safe out there.

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