Thursday, September 20, 2001

Ohioans help, and hope

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK — The buzz of heavy machinery muffles the creak of twisted metal as it's pried away, piece by piece, from a pile still stories high.

        Workers use search dogs, listening devices, their bare hands, in hopes of finding someone, anyone, alive.

[photo] Ed Thomas (left) and David Pickering talk about their search and rescue work in New York.
(Crain Ruttle photos)
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        Search and rescue at the World Trade Center is a 24-hour job. This is where Ohio Task Force One — 17 men from Cincinnati — has been since Sept. 12.

        The group, part of the federally established National Urban Search and Rescue response system, got the call just hours after hijackers smashed two planes into the World Trade Center towers.

        “Most of us got paged about 10:30 (a.m.) or 11,” said Ed Thomas, a rescue specialist who works for Green Township Fire Department.

        "Most of us had seen it on TV, and a lot of people anticipated that we would go.”

        Required to carry two weeks' worth of supplies at all times — clothing, toiletries and tools — they were ready.

        “We left Tuesday morning and got here about 6 a.m. Wednesday,” Mr. Thomas said. “By noon, the day squad was already out to (ground zero)."

[photo] Ohioans working out of the Jacob Javitz Convention Center in New York put up a few reminders of home.
| ZOOM |
        From the Jacob Javitz Convention Center, two of four Ohio rescue squads boarded a bus. A New York state trooper escorted them to Ground Zero.

        They found blocks of burned-out firetrucks and ambulances, as well as papers that had flown out of buildings — a foot high in some places.

        To a blown-out bank building about 200 yards from what's left of the towers, they brought hand tools, shovels, rope, food. And dogs, search cameras and listening devices.

        David Pickering, who works for Colerain Township Fire Department, was on that first shift.

        “A lot of what we did was support,” he said of the first days assisting the New York Fire Department. "We sent out dogs ... looking for anybody who might be alive in the pile.”

        Imagine building a huge Lincoln Log house, then collapsing it. Rescuers must dig, drill and sometimes climb into every corner and crevice to search for people.

        “We use a fiber-optic scope with a TV screen on top,” Mr. Pickering said, to search in tiny voids. “If it's big enough to fit in, we'll go in. We went into any opening we could find.”

        Teamed with building specialists, nurses and heavy riggers, they went room to room in some buildings searching for people. They waited as heavy equipment operators moved debris and others shored up open spaces so rescuers could climb in.

        At 7 p.m. Wednesday it was time for a shift change. The other two Ohio teams took over for the next 12 hours.

        That pattern went on for days.

        Mr. Thomas was on the night shift, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., under industrial lighting.

        He sometimes rappelled 70 or 80 feet into a hole, the only beam of light coming from his helmet.

        “Every time we went into a void, we were hoping,” Mr. Thomas said.

        It was after Ohio's team returned from their last night on the job Tuesday that they took time to put it all into perspective.

        “We're firefighters, so we feel the anguish of 300 firefighters lost. They have families just like we do,” Mr. Pickering said. “How many children are without fathers?”

        But they also know they have made a difference. And there is still hope.

        “You should always hope that they find somebody alive still,” Mr. Thomas said.


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