What I found among the rubble

What one medic found among the rubble was the caring and courage of those who died on 9/11

By Steven Kanarian

The graphic images of September 11, 2001 have left an indelible memory in the minds of all Americans who experienced these terrorist attacks. EMTs and paramedics have been providing patient care hoping time would heal wounds and distance would make the acceptance easier. Now the 10th Anniversary of September 11, 2001 is upon us, and this milestone makes us stop and look back to the events that continue to claim the lives of so many EMTs and paramedics.

For many months after the attacks, I tried to find a way out from under the cloud of 9/11.

There were no new lessons learned to revolutionize our patient care. There was no good to come out of what happened. I repeatedly sifted through the sights and sounds in my mind trying to find some good, some take home lesson, some reason good EMTs and paramedics died.

The loss of EMS providers is much larger than what is known to the EMS community. We grieve the loss of EMS providers like Carlos Lillo, Ricardo Quinn, Keith Fairben, Mario Santoro, Yamel Merino, Richard Perlman and many others during 9/11 ceremonies.

We also lost scores of EMTs and paramedics who worked as NYFD Firefighters and NYPD Emergency Service Police Officers. I was deeply moved to hear that two New York New Jersey Port Authority Police Officers who were paramedics died in the World Trade Center carrying a patient in a stair chair. Even though they were police officers, their desire to provide patient care on 9/11 shined bright.

I am also moved by the deaths of the many EMTs and paramedics who died from exposure in the months following 9/11, and who are not remembered during the anniversary ceremonies. Just a few of their names are Rene Davilla, Felix Hernandez, Tim Keller and Elizabeth Reeve. Many more rescuers are still suffering from respiratory diseases, cancer and stress from "that day." The termination of a mass casualty incident begins the recovery and healing, to me this MCI is still generating patients and claiming victims.

What I did find among the rubble was the caring and courage of those who died on 9/11. I also recognized the courage and dedication of the rescuers standing by my side that came from all corners of the country. These brothers and sisters who came to help were all brought closer together by the attacks. From these experiences, I have learned that in the darkest moments we stand as one country united.

I personally began to see a ray of daylight through the cloud of 9/11 by sharing the circumstances experienced by my coworkers and me, and there are many stories of courage, duty and loss by EMS providers that should be shared. I have also taken opportunities to teach students about the safety rules that were invaluable like "Time, Distance and Shielding," the all hazards safety rules, and the use of proper personal protective equipment. When events like building explosions, hazardous materials incidents are evolving, EMS providers should seek cover and communicate with command and specialty resources mitigating the threats. EMTs and paramedics who are coming into our profession can benefit from our experience and prepare for the challenges of the future.

We may have petty differences between coworkers that are worsened by the stress of our job. In a conversation I had with Pat Bahnken, President of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors, FDNY, Local 2507 I was reminded of this single fact at the core of all we do in EMS: "EMTs, firemen and policemen all do the incredibly dangerous work we are asked to do because we know in our heart that if anything happens to us, all our brothers and sisters will come for us." These events have solidified my feeling that we should honor and care for our fellow EMS providers in life each day, and not just in death.

Moving forward from 9/11 for EMS is a combination of remembering those we lost, and dedicating ourselves to honoring their courage and sacrifice through patient care each day. We cannot forget the events of September 11, 2001 but we can respect the frail nature of life and continue the work of our brothers and sisters who died from the terrorist attacks of that day.

About the author:
Steven Kanarian is a retired EMS Lieutenant and paramedic with the New York City Fire Department EMS Comman, On 9/11 Steve was a member of FEMA USAR NYTF-1. He responded to both attacks on the World Trade Center. Steve published a book, available from Amazon, about his experiences entitled "The Downwind Walk: A USAR Paramedics Experiences after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001." 

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