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To the Rescue

Emergency services bring medical expertise straight to the scene.
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Don Johnson, Mar/Apr 02

On the sunny morning of September 11, 2001, the corner of Seventh and Greenwich avenues in downtown Manhattan was a scene of chaos and panic. Doctors, nurses and paramedics were frantically running in and out of the emergency entrance of St. Vincent's hospital, outfitting stretchers and hooking up medical equipment.

On the opposite corner, a group of onlookers gazed down Seventh Avenue, transfixed by the horror before their eyes. History had been made minutes before as two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.

Within minutes of the first plane careening into the Twin Towers that morning, New York City firefighters, the police department and other members of the city's rapid response team were traveling downtown at breakneck speed. Nobody knew what was happening, just that there would be casualties. The EMTs and paramedics at St. Vincent's and other area hospitals knew nothing of how horrific that day would be or how much their resources would be tested. Like the city's firefighters and police officers, the Emergency Medical Service personnel would end up being some of New York's finest and bravest.

John Peruggia Jr. knows the importance of emergency medical technicians. He oversees more than 3,500 EMTs, paramedics and officers every day as the chief of planning for the Fire Department of New York. Peruggia and his team responded just minutes after the second jumbo jet hit the World Trade Center. He and other members of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's Office of Emergency Management immediately convened at headquarters at 7 World Trade to oversee the various agency operations. While they were coordinating rescue efforts, the first tower collapsed and Peruggia, the mayor and others were trapped near Ground Zero, not knowing if they would survive.

"The front of the building had collapsed in and when the debris cleared, some of us evacuated people in the lobby and myself and another fire chief went up on the promenade of the World Trade Center plaza and evacuated a couple of hundred people from there," Peruggia says. "Then we went back to our command post and were on the corner of West and Vesey streets when the second building came down. We started to run, a firefighter grabbed me and threw me underneath a fire truck, and I was trapped under there for a few minutes and then I got out."

Seven World Trade was burning and by 5:30 p.m. had collapsed completely. Peruggia stayed near the site to help set up the EMS operations. That was when he discovered he had lost a number of his comrades, including the chief of the department and his immediate boss, Peter Ganci Jr. (Ganci was one of the two highest-ranking department officials who died while trying to save lives at the site.)

Today, Peruggia is back at Fire Department headquarters planning for other events, coordinating drills and trying to get back to business. But it hasn't been easy.

Getting back to business hasn't been easy for EMT Brad Mann, either.

Mann, a 15-year veteran EMT and a lieutenant for the last six years, worked tirelessly at Ground Zero from September 11 till the end of the year. On that fateful day, Mann was at fire department headquarters in Brooklyn. He had heard that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers and immediately traveled with his commander across the Brooklyn Bridge. They had originally thought the crash was an accident, but once they were traveling across the bridge and saw the damage to the tower, they realized it couldn't be.

"We arrived shortly after the first plane hit the tower and began setting up EMS operations," says Mann. "By the time we realized what happened, we looked up and saw the second plane hit the second tower, and within a few minutes we were just running for our lives. It was like nothing I have ever seen in 15 years."

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