DS Agents Aid City Rescue Efforts (Text Version)
(NOTE: This article first appeared in the December 2001 edition of State Magazine)
By Hinda Perdreaux, Diplomatic Security Special Agent
When the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m., our 34th floor office at 26 Federal Plaza—just five blocks from the former World Trade Center—was evacuated.
Diplomatic Security staff readied a rescue operation once the fires were put out. When a second plane struck the South Tower, we realized this wasn’t an accident. As the towers collapsed, communications failed, and debris and smoke choked the area, it seemed we were under aerial attack. The plan switched to evacuation as DS agents helped civilians racing from the scene. Agents guided the injured to aid stations and others away from the fires.
Our response presented a huge challenge. We assisted with relief efforts, staffed various command posts and informed headquarters of the latest developments in protecting dignitaries insisting on visiting New York City—all while accounting for our employees.
The next day, Diplomatic Security was immersed in assisting both the city police and fire departments. Much of the work involved traffic control near Ground Zero, as the disaster site became known. After eight hours of dealing with local residents, ambulances, firefighters and police officers from throughout the tri-state area, we were exhausted but inspired to continue.
On Sept. 13, Diplomatic Security donated four vehicles to city emergency officials. With the tragic loss of 340 firefighters and the destruction of fire trucks and other rescue vehicles, the fire department eagerly put us to work. We delivered gasoline for generators used by firefighters working inside the destroyed towers; transported firefighters from their firehouses in outlying boroughs to the site; drove doctors to work at local hospitals; and escorted emergency vehicles through tunnels closed to general traffic. We also staffed telephones to answer the barrage of questions confronting the rescue teams. We worked closely with firefighters from Los Angeles, Chicago, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Long Island, New York State and New Jersey. The dedication of each firefighter fueled our resolve to continue working in unglamorous but dangerous assignments.
Agents assigned to the New York field office and our satellite offices volunteered for 12-hour shifts. We also arranged for a professional chef to prepare soup for the rescue workers. Each day at 11 a.m., a van was dispatched to deliver 50 servings to the front lines. Since firefighters were hesitant to leave the site, this was often their only meal for the day.
Our business contacts responded as well. After the intense heat and jagged debris destroyed the boots of many firefighters, Wolverine Footwear donated 6,000 pairs of steel-toe boots. Another company donated 2,000 miner’s lamps to rescue workers digging through darkened voids and tunnels. A manufacturer of ladies’ handbags gave 1,000 leather backpacks to the firefighters. Jansport and Swiss Army donated 800 canvas backpacks. The Tile Workers Association donated steel kneepads. An Alabama footwear company sent thousands of pairs of socks.
Diplomatic Security agents supported city officials in still other ways. They brought in blueprints of the World Trade Center to help rescuers; assisted the FBI joint task force with evidence; provided escort service to the disaster area and helped with communication between government agencies.