State's Task Force One Participant Shares Nyc Ground Zero Experiences
Carbon County residents may find it difficult to imagine the damage and chaos in New York City following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. People who have watched the television reports or seen photos think they understand, but they don't.
The situation is like seeing a photo of the Grand Canyon, then experiencing it in person. The difference is immediate and startling. At least it was for Keith Bevan of the Salt Lake County Fire Department when Utah Task Force One was mobilized by the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency and he ended up on a runway at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey on Sept. 12.
Bevan had seen the photos of the attacks, but the realization of the devastation as buses brought emergency wokers down the West Highway to the site of the tragedy was a shock.
"Everyone knows somebody or they know someone who worked in the Twin Towers, even here," pointed out Bevan, presenting a program for first responders, fire fighters, police and emergency crews at the adult probation offices in Price last Thursday.
The program was organized to bring home the reality of terrorism and the realism of what emergency personnel could face in the wake of a major disaster.
Bevan and 61 personnel members from various Salt Lake public and private agencies responded on that day. They lived in the Jacob Javitts center for weeks and labored 12-hour shifts, digging through the rubble along with hundreds of other workers from all over the country.
Last Thursday morning, Bevan brought a computer with the sights and sounds of the tragic day and the aftermath along with stories of the weeks of work that went into the project. He also shared a personal story that will never be found in any magazine, on any website or on any televisions show.
Bevan began the workshop by explaining computer graphics depicting how the buildings had been constructed. The project of building the towers, started in 1966 and finished in 1973. Dirt dug out to open up eight underground stories was used as fill along the waterfront where more buildings were built to complete the World Trade Center coplex.
When the planes struck and the towers collapsed, it literally destroyed almost every building completed or being constructed in a multi-block area. The 16-acre plaza under the towers became a mass of dust and twisted metal, with few bodies remaining of the nearly 4,000 people who perished.
"The dust from the concrete and everything it disintegrated was unbelievable," said Bevan. "The bodies we did find had no clothes on them; the sheer energy of the collapses took them off those people. Most, however, were absorbed into the dust, ground up never to be found."
Bevan described finding identification cards, in perfect shape that he knew people had on them. But there was no sign of the person. But he knew they were there just the same.
Bevan, who is a Area Inspector for his department, was particularly sensitive to the issues that dealt with fire fighters and other rescue personnel who had been lost in the disaster.
"The New York fire department lost 33 trucks and engines," he told the group. "In some cases everyone on those engines died. In one case an entire fire station lost every person that manned it."
Bevans presentation included not only some professional photos and graphics, but also many of his own, taken in places where not professional photographers were allowed to go.
One of the most poignant parts of his presentation was when he played the sounds and voices from New York dispatch. He had almost an hour of the conversations on his computer and played about ten minutes worth for the workshop. The voices started out matter of factly and then as the situation became apparent, the tension started. When the towers collapsed, communications were very disrupted because the repeater for Manhatten was on top of one of the towers.
In short the conversations between dispatch and the field and between those in the field were almost unbelievable. Some of the voices on the sound track before the collapse were not there after; those were responders who were never heard from again.
Bevan told the class that there were a lot of things that happened there that he never expected and situations arose that no one could have predicted.
For one thing there was all the paper; paper everywhere. Paper for blocks and blocks, in every thing, on everything.
Yet while the paper survived and blew all over the pennisula that is Manhatten, he said recovery teams seldom found any piece of furniture or office equipment larger than the base of a rolling office chair.
"How many thousands of filing cabinents do you think there was in that 9 million square feet of office space?" he asked the group. No one could answer, but of course everyone was thinking of thousands. "We didn't find one from the collapse."
However when the planes hit that was different. The planes litterally blew the inside contents of the floors they hit out onto the street. In some cases things line office desks, filing cabinents and airplane parts were falling from the sky. Many people were killed by these falling objects.
Another thing that most people don't realize is that when the planes hit the fuel from them didn't remain on the floors or floors close to where they crashed. The fuel spilled and flashed down to the first floor lobby where dozens of people were standing waiting to get on elevators.
But the smell of the place was something that he said would stick with him forever. On one corner across the street from the towers was a Krispy Creame Donut Shop. When the attack happened everyone just left and the grease in the vats in that shop started to rot after only a few hours; he said to this day most of the team cannot eat those kind of donuts anymore.
And of course when it happened everything lost power in the area and some of the large restaurants walk in coolers, filled with beef were rotting for weeks in the warm September and October weather. Add that to the smell of electric smoke and of course rotting corpses and pieces of corpses, and whole area was a biohazard.
"They brought in some of the finest chefs in New York to cook for us on the job," said Bevan. "One day we were sitting out on the street during a break and we started to wonder about what we were eating. Everything in the air and in the area was a biohazard threat."
The teams had to be decontaminated every time they left the sight because of all the contaminants, bio and chemical.
"These buildings around the outside of the area had windows missing in some places and in others they were intact," he said as he pointed toward one of the photos on the screen. "Many of those windows were knocked out when people were literally blown out of the towers when they collapsed and were thrown through those windows. They ruled those buildings to be completely biohazardous for that reason."
The presentation brought the entire situation much closer to home for everyone that attended, and provided some food for thought for those who must deal with life and death every day in their job. No one in the room, except Bevan, had had to deal with such a large amount of death and disaster all at once.
But Bevan was upbeat about the final result. With reports as of Friday that the entire cleanup at the site will be completed by the end of this month. And those that lost their lives, along with those who came from near and far to help will never be forgotten by those natives of New York that handled the aftermath.
"I made some great friends there," said Bevan. "We all hung flags on every high spot we could. We worked together. If I go to New York I, and many of our colleagues will never want for a place to stay. The door will always be open to us because we were there when they needed us."