The First Eight Days at Ground Zero
By Mark Foster, TFL MA-TF1
Our target departure time was 4:00 PM. This would have made our departure time 5 hours after official notification (11:00 AM). We were still fine-tuning the roster and our drug shipment from Daley was still at the Daley warehouse. I called Bill Burke at the School Department and told him to get the buses here as soon as possible. He said they would finish their school drop off’s and head for the cache. At this time our official destination was the Federal Staging Area in Edison New Jersey.
The State Police escort showed up and the convoy finally left at 4:15 PM. Almost as a bad omen half the convoy departed down Sam Fonzo Drive and the other half got lost and went down Cabot Street. Fortunately we got everyone on the radio and regrouped prior to exiting on to Route 128 southbound. The drug shipment had not departed yet from the warehouse, but I knew we had an ambulance there waiting and there was a good chance they could catch up with the convoy.
We now began to form an Advance/Recon Team to proceed to the World Trade Center (WTC) Site. We took the mobile Command Post and two of the Ford Vans and drove down to about Church and Vessey. Wile driving south on Church Street I saw a four story high piece of Tower 2 that had fallen and impaled itself in the middle of Church Street. Temporary lighting had been set up on Church Street and the piece stuck in the street could be seen for several blocks. We had our FEMA Task Force radios on and I was surprised to hear NYTF-01 talking among them on our local channel. While on church Street I had got out of the van to see if we could drive any closer and about that time I got a call on my NEXTEL from the Javet’s Center and they ordered us back. We returned to the Javits Center about midnight.
When we got to the Javits Center, Fred Endrikat explained that it was too dangerous to perform night operations.
The Deployment to the WTC was MATF’s first emergency response deployment as a Type 1 Task Force (we had deployed to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and had a modular deployment to the Worcester Fire in 1999). In reviewing the AAR it is important to notice the 40 of the 62 WTC responders are still on the Task Force. Many of the lessons learned at the WTC still are valid today. I tell people when they come see our team, extensive cache and fleet of trucks: “We responded to the WTC with practically nothing compared to today, and we performed flawlessly, it’s never about the equipment, it’s about the people”.
9/11 was a turning point for the Task Force, FEMA and the Country.