On September 11, 2001 we as a nation experienced one of the worst tragedies in our history. Many people from all walks of life responded to that incident in a variety of ways. Here in Summit, it was the largest response in the history of the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad. Including the duty crew, 49 members answered the call for help that day. In the following days, several responded to help with the rescue/recovery efforts in Manhattan. 19 members received a citation for service at “ground zero”.
Here are a few of their stories:
Beverly Brown was Squad Captain at the time (a position now called “Chief”). Like many, she was at work that day when hearing news of the attack and like several of our members, left work to answer the request for us to mobilize. As the Squad’s chief officer, she was asked join City officials in the local Emergency Operations Center to plan a response, later leaving to lead the large EMS operation at Summit’s train station. She arranged to borrow 3 additional ambulances, all of which were used that day. Phone calls were placed to every Squad member with follow-ups to those unaccounted for. One member, Clive “Ian” Thompson worked in WTC and had not been heard from since the 2nd plane hit. As many train passengers from New York detrained in Summit, many covered with dust and debris, Beverly looked at each in hopes of seeing Ian. We would later learn that our friend Ian was lost that day.
John Staunton was Squad President and like most Tuesdays went to work a bit later after his Monday night EMS shift. While driving to work on the Garden State Parkway, he heard news reports on the radio and could see smoke from Tower 1. From the parking lot at work, he called the Squad HQ to see what might be needed. There was no news. A few moments later, the 2nd plane hit. After unsuccessful attempts to call colleagues inside his office came the EMS radio dispatch, “CENCOM to all members from Clark, Kenilworth, Summit EMS…”. He too headed back to Summit. At Squad HQ, he assigned crews to the Squads 2nd and 3rd ambulances and helped set up 3 additional ambulances that were loaned by Paul Vickery, a member who owned a Summit based ambulance dealership at the time. John would later join a crew into NYC to help with the rescue effort and recalls a sobering leaders briefing on Friday night when the operation was officially changed to a “recovery” effort. We all knew what that meant. John recalls the outpouring of support from the community both on that Tuesday and in the following weeks. There was true unity in our community and the nation.
Kate Getzendanner was the duty crew chief that day and her crew was kept busy with seven emergency calls in Summit, including a car accident attributed to the driver being distracted by the NYC incident. Despite the fact that she had not heard from her husband, Kate remained on duty all day. Tom made it home later than night. Sadly, his sister did not.
Rich Ryden was still at home when hearing the news. He headed straight for the Squad HQ and was assigned to one of two ambulances we sent to Jersey City. His crew went to a large triage area at Liberty State Park set up to receive patients from New York. After few patients arrived and communication with NYC was lost, the commander there asked his Summit crew to head over on a boat and deliver a message. Taking EMS gear with them, they completed that task and were then asked to help a NYC EMS crew southwest of the towers where they treated several firefighters. While there Rich recalls seeing an overturned FDNY fire engine in a pile of rubble just 50 yards away. He also recalls watching three FDNY firefighters erecting an American flag atop what looked like a damaged construction vehicle. A photo of that event from a different angle has since become an icon of the 9/11 response.
Mike D’Ecclessis was working as the Court Clerk in Plainfield when a colleague heard the news. Shortly after he let her go home, a call came from the Assignment Judge to close all courts in the County. There was a fear terrorists might target courts. After closing the court, Mike left work himself and answered the Squad’s “all hands” call for help. Mike was assigned with 2 dozen other members to the train station to help treat and decontaminate passengers from the City. All wore PPE including Tyvek suits since we unsure what might be in that dust. Summits Fire Dept assisted a HazMat team from Novartis in operating a decontamination tent in the train station parking lot. Squad members evaluated over 600 passengers and 75 received full decontamination on site. Three days later Mike joined a Summit crew standing by in NYC for the rescue effort. He recalls the cheers from many as the convoy of New Jersey ambulances emerged from the Holland Tunnel. At the Chelsea Pier staging area, many local restaurant owners and vendors offered the responders a variety of food and drink during their 14+ hour shift. All was complimentary. Mike recalls “many things were a blur to me as I could not imagine the pain and suffering of the families that lost members. My thoughts shifted to two people I knew were missing Todd Ranke, who was a former member of the Squad and Ian Thompson who was a current member. Knowing both of them the way I did, I know they were trying to help others. We must never forget the PEOPLE”.
Matt Sinclair also heard the news on the radio on the way to work. Between leaving his car and entering his office news came of the 2nd plane. Matt headed home and along with his wife Maureen who was also a Squad member, responded to Squad HQ. All 3 of our ambulances were on calls at that moment and the 3 we were borrowing had not yet arrived. That’s when the first report of trains with injured people came in. Matt and Maureen helped load supplies into their personal car and responded to the train station with 2 other members. That 4 person team conducted triage on the few passengers that were starting to arrive. Luckily none had serious injuries and the 3 borrowed ambulances were equipped and arrived on scene before the large crowds. Matt recalls a man who appeared distraught and when a few mental health professionals arrived to offer help he immediately sent them his way. Paul Vickery also loaned us a “command” trailer that was set up outside the station for use by the counselors. Matt recalls, “I’ll never forget how many people told me they’d gone to work late because they had been watching the Giants play Monday Night Football the night before. Most of them couldn’t remember initially why they went in late, and it shocked them that their lives might have been spared because they watched a football game.”
Kari Phair, our current Chief, was at home when first hearing the news. She was very concerned because her father worked at WTC and decided to stay with her mother. Once they heard he was safe, Kari also headed to Squad HQ where she worked with another member to secure additional supplies. It was obvious that our supply of Tyvek suits would soon be exhausted as we were using them not only for members, but for patients who needed a full decon shower as well. Kari was able to locate another 150 from various sources. One was a friend and fellow EMT from an area rescue squad who worked for a pharmaceutical company that greed to donate supplies. He delivered those supplies in a Fanwood ambulance and that crew remained with us at the train station. Two days later Kari would respond into NYC to help with the rescue effort. She recalls “the sound of driving through the Holland Tunnel with no traffic was deafening and the caravan of ambulances moving through the tunnel was surreal beyond anything I have ever experienced.” A few Years later, Summit EMS was honored to receive a part of the World Trade Center building that is now part of a memorial in the front lobby of our building for everyone to see.
Throughout the day on September 11, people came to the Squad building offering to help. Without training, there was little for them to do that day. However, several of them did become active members and a few are still active today. During the following year our active membership would top 100 for the first time.
Since 1962, the all-volunteer First Aid Squad, has responded to emergency calls large and small 24/7, has been entirely funded through private donations and has never billed for service. The Squad is always looking for new volunteers to join its ranks. All needed training, uniforms and equipment is provided. For information on becoming a volunteer, or donating to the squad please call 908-277-9479, or visit their web site at: www.summitems.org.
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