Friends, fellow New Yorkers, countrymen:
Tonight, I just want to take a moment to share with you a scene that left a deep impression on me while I was leaving the wreckage at Ground Zero a year ago today.
When I entered Ground Zero that night via the Marina, immediately south of the North Tower, at about 11PM, it looked like a moonscape, with an inch of whitish-grey powder covering everything. The only footsteps to be seen there among the rubble were of the firemen who had been searching. No one there was speaking. At one point a NYC fireman tripped, and I went over to help him up. When he got up on his own, he abruptly asked me what fire department I was from (I was not wearing a fireman's suit). I simply said "Albany." He pondered that, and spoke no more. I held my halogen spotlight over his shoulder when he fixed his attention on a cavity and was shining only his inadequate flashlight. Later, when I heard a group of firemen including the officer who had helped me step over a beam speaking about me, and I realized they were about to ask me the same question, I pointed down to my left, directing their attention to something I had found under a set of beams. That preoccupied them, and also the petite female doctor whom they immediately summoned. This was about 50 feet northwest of the now-famous flag pole, which I had earlier noticed had not been flattened, despite the parts of a shredded firetruck strewn all around it. The only thing any of them said to me after that was to stay off "the Pile" (the North Tower) when I had begun to climb towards it. When I looked up to the pile, in the light of the floodlights, I saw a hellish vapor slowly rising everywhere from the rubble like something out of Dante. Through this I later saw the figures of several firemen in black methodically scaling or traversing "the pile." When I finally concluded that I would not find a live person in that violently-deposited rubble, and my halogen light's battery was running down, I felt I had to leave.
At about 2AM on September 12, 2001, I walked (north) out of Ground Zero. When I could walk briskly while looking ahead (without staring at my foot falls), I looked up and saw two NY fire department officers walking (north) ahead of me. One wore a light colored suit and helmet and the other wore the black suit and classic fireman hat. They were walking side-by-side about 30 feet ahead of me, carrying something between them. Each held up a top corner of a large clear plastic bag (about 3 feet long). They walked very deliberately, not rushing, placing their steps carefully, holding the bag carefully so it did not swing and so it did not touch the ground. They walked like pallbearers, to a funeral drum-beat only they could hear. I slowed my pace so I would not pass them. And, I tried to understand what I was seeing.
The contents of the bag had significant mass. Inside, the bag I saw only two things. First, on the left side was a fireman's helmet leaning up on its side. It was obviously a helmet that had been recovered from the rubble behind us. To the right of the helmet, (on the "open side" of the helmet) was an ordinary cardboard box, a little taller than the helmet, and a little wider.
The two firemen turned the corner, and I went another way to get my gear stashed just south of the Tribecca Bridge.
I later confirmed that the route the two firemen took lead to the refrigerated Morgue trucks.
I have many times since then, and many times today, empathetically felt the great pain the pair must have been feeling that night, because they knew with certainty the contents of the box, and perhaps recognized his face as well. That night, while I left Ground Zero, I only felt anger, and spoke of the War and its first effects.
A French Reporter lurking under the Tribecca Bridge approached me after I had emerged from behind the police line there, and asked me a series of questions in English. His news report included the following:
"The firemen are [worried because] building number 7 of World Trade Center, which [had also collapsed] Tuesday. With a few meters [away from that bridge], the flames again lick the amoncelés remains. A crane is brought in urgen[tly] and water starts to spout out. Thin net vis-a-vis a black cloud threatening. In the light of the projectors [floodlights] which illuminate the sky, Mark Ferran, 31 years, includes its breath. Volunteer come from Albany, the capital of the state of New York, [has difficulty] to find his words."
The French Reporter agglomerated his translation of my answers into one paragraph written in French, which the computer in turn translated as follows:
"I came [down from "Upstate"] with two friends [into Manhattan traveling with two volunteers that I met at a gas station on the way down]. Up to that point, I had done nothing but recover two or three people lost in the forest [e.g., my own city-slicker friends who got lost in my own woods while hunting. I'm a good tracker]. Today, I did not know any more where I was [i.e., I was not in familiar territory among the rubble]. I spent all my time [while on the rubble] trying to find survivors. But it is almost impossible to move between what remains [of the] buildings. [Earlier] I saw a leg wedged [sticking out, pinned] under a [beam]. It was certainly [I believed it was] a fireman [because office workers don't have such muscular legs, and the shredded fire-truck was all around him], his uniform [and footwear] had been torn [completely off of him] by the breath [blast at the bottom of the collapsing building]. I bent down [to look for life], [but he] had already died."
The French Reporter then commented:
"It is over there indeed that all is played. Under this mountain which is today all that remains of the two twin towers, monster of steel and ploughed up concrete which seems to have crushed all the district. With regular intervals, one sees men penetrating [the rubble] in [their] meanders, saws in hand. One hears the strident noise of the metal which one cuts out. There are sad stories...."
My younger sister Laura, who lives in Manhattan, works a desk-job in management in a major Hospital there. She also has a very strong history of Volunteerism. (Our mother, Korean War Era Air Force Veteran Nadia Ferran, taught us to volunteer to help others- not a governmental directive). When I could not reach her by phone that morning, I hoped she had not followed doctors to the buildings. Like me, she left her desk work behind that morning. She volunteered early that fateful day to lend her hands setting up a blood-drive collection facility near a large make-shift emergency room full of Doctors standing ready to help the hundreds of injured people anticipated to be brought in for Emergency Medical treatment. The most disturbing thing she saw that day (apart from television and smoke) was seen by her while she waited with the Doctors for all the injured people to arrive for life-saving treatment. The most disturbing thing she saw that day, she later told me, was that no injured people arrived.
Thanks for the comments..I would imagine that you have more to say, but are reserving comment
Yes, there are more things the People should know. (How did you infer that?) I entered Ground Zero twice. Once that night, and again the second next Saturday. I was upset when I returned, to see so few men working the "bucket brigades". The sight of a few hundred men (police, firemen, contractors, Reserves) passing buckets to/from a few dozen men actually digging, while THOUSANDS of able bodied men stood behind rigid police lines wishing they could help in the rescue effort was shocking and disturbing to me. Where there were only a few ribbons of men per "pile", there should have been an army.
When you see the aftermath of an earthquake in any 3rd-world country, you see swarms of humanity digging and moving the rubble. Why are not our own people worthy of that effort? Why should the instinct of human kind to come to the aid of their distressed fellows be suppressed by bureaucratic or police authority? The only justification for such inhumanity could be the official belief that there were NO SURVIVORS to be found in that rubble, and that inviting in thousands of rescuers would increase the risk of more injuries or death (not to mention decreasing the GNP slightly). But, under such circumstances, that belief would become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The painful fact is, I knew in my heart that there were no survivors in the violently-deposited rubble. That is why I left the first time. (someone might have survived in the lower floors of the building, and trapped, but not in the portion that fell) I wanted there to be survivors. I donated my own material possessions to the search effort. Upon my return to Albany, I arranged for Home Depot to donate a pallet of Halogen spotlights like the one I had brought Down with me. I watched the news, hoping the dog teams would find life. But, the oppressive and grim reality is that the tumbled steel of each "pile" was like a moving meat grinder. And, anyone trapped under the mass would probably have suffocated, (in the dust or by Carbon Monoxide from the fires) if not burned alive. If I had believed there were actual survivors, in the tumbled steel, I would have felt compelled to lead the revolt to storm the police lines. Let us hope that that kind of mass civil disobedience shall not soon be necessary.
Mark R. Ferran
BSEE scl JD mcl
See more of the writings of Mark R. Ferran at: