"Proud Cookies"

Not just another 9/11 tale...my story...

"Proud Cookies"

The morning was bright, unusually bright for the time of year, I looked up into the sky that morning and thought to myself, “wow what a great day to be alive,” as I sipped my coffee from my favorite deli on Fulton Street at the foot of the World Trade Center.  The sun beamed into the cab of my FDNY ambulance. the sun warmed my face and arms, I listened carefully to the radio transmissions to see if my morning would be interrupted by the frantic call of my dispatcher on Manhattan south radio, but no. It was a typical morning, the regular call types, the sick in the subway the slip and fall in the office building caused by the absent minded janitor who neglected to put up the “caution wet floor” sign. Then my radio ebbed to life calling my unit, the voice of the dispatcher crackled over the well-worn radio speaker, “01charlie” it droned, my partner, who was driving the rig that day was also in charge of the radio transmissions for our unit (this is typical practice on a FDNY ambulance.) “1 Charlie” he answered, “one Charlie respond to the subway at center street for the EDP (emotionally disturbed person)” the dispatcher stated “here we go” I said, I put the coffee down and said “ok let’s hit it”, we went off in traditional emergency mode lights and siren going as I scribbled down the calls particulars.   

We arrived at the subway at the foot of city hall and we went down in to the subway to extract from the rest of the working masses the single person whose regular daily grind that is part of NYC life had gotten the better of them that morning.  We got him out of the subway, and into our unit, his tirades of political conspiracy and spousal infidelity echoed into my ears as I tried to keep a straight face in the midst of the mid-morning madness, we rolled effortlessly up first avenue on our way to the well-known psychiatric hospital in Manhattan named Bellevue.  We pulled into the newly renovated emergency vehicle entrance.  Then, with great skill, the man set off the in unit fire extinguishing mechanism, as we exited the vehicle into the hospital, which caused us to flee the unit in haste as it became impossible to breathe in the vehicle.  

“Well, I guess we have to go back to station 11, so we could change busses.” I told my partner as we headed back to the unit after having our patient transferred over to the care of the hospitals staff, “Yeah” he agreed “I hope the bus we get has some a/c it's hot today”.  A bus is what NYPD, FDNY, and EMS affectionately dubbed NYC ambulances.  The frequent use for unwarranted trips to the ER from the abusers of the 911 system in NY awarded them the name.  He was right the weather was unseasonably warm that morning.  As we rode back to Station, 11 Battalion 04 (located on the lower east side of Manhattan; Clinton and South streets), we engaged in banter about the stations politics and our own personal views of the stations issues, as well as our own personal life’s triumph and tragedies. 

  We got back to the station and quickly removed our emergency equipment to the new vehicle, good old vehicle 219; she was 01 Charlie’s vehicle before the upgraded vehicles were put into service in the mid-2000 year.  If 219 could talk, it would tell many tales of laughter and tears of the people of NYC as well as its crew.  You could not be an EMT or Paramedic with NYC -EMS or FDNY-EMSC without having spilled a few tears for the people you helped, or for the way it affected you or your close friend, your partner if you were lucky to be blessed with a good one. 

We quickly settled into our unit and went back into service and started out to our 10-97 (the cross street location that we were assigned to) located just a few blocks from the World Trade Center.  As we cruised down South Street, we engaged in more conversation of no importance, in relation to the importance of what we were about to see.

Making a right at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, we noticed a low flying plane.  This plane was not flying at a height that we were used to seeing, from time to time when planes were told to change flight direction or height to avoid midair collisions, but this plane was flying very low.  It was moving with purpose and determination.  “Look at the plane how low it is” he exclaimed.  “I know it looks like it needs to make an emergency landing,” I said.  “Yeah but where?” my partner responded, and right at that moment we saw the answer to that well-posed question.  The plane surgically sliced into the side of one of the Towers with a thud that resounded in our chests even those many blocks away.  Was it a thud or was it just my heart stopping for a brief moment in reaction to the shock of having witnessed the beginning of one of the worst tragedies in U.S. history, I could not really tell.

My partner instinctively snatched up the radio’s microphone. “1 Charlie” my partner said with an uneasy calm that comes from total disbelief of something so horrific in scale that the mind cannot encompass its severity; ”1 Charlie”  the dispatcher answered, “1charlie central, we just witnessed a plane hit the World Trade Center!” silence, then the dispatcher scolded him “No unauthorized Transmissions 1 Charlie” the dispatcher reprimanded us. Hindsight being 20/20 it was an understandably legitimate statement for the moment. Who would believe the audacity of an attack on the Trade Center? Just then, the tour lieutenant interjected.  “Conditions 1 central” (“conditions” was the radio designation of the tour lieutenants that would be in the field) “it is affirmative, their transmission is correct, a plane has hit the trade center, send all available resources to the trade center.”  While this was happening we rendezvoused with him at the foot of the trade center on west street, we set up a triage area and were quickly inundated with patients with various stages of injury.  People continued to come out of the plaza in the front of the towers in droves and we tried our best to keep a handle on the ever-increasing number of critical injuries as the people located closer to the impacted floors in the tower were brought out either under their own power or by the help of their co-workers.

“What is going on man?” my partner screamed at me over the din of screams and sirens of the arriving cavalry, “I don’t know!  It doesn’t make sense” I responded there was a woman with a partial amputation of her hand, and as I patched that up I was brought another man with a severely dislocated shoulder and fractured collar bone, I worked hard to try to comfort both of these poor angels.  As I did that my partner worked feverishly to keep his radio transmissions to the central dispatcher to a minimum and full of useful information only, he fought the urge to just scream help us!  Help us!  Over the radio, he kept his professional demeanor and I was proud of him.

My career up until this point had been one of many small victories and some major upsets.  When newer EMTs came into the station they were paired with me sometimes so I could begin Instructing them on how to do the tedious work of rescuing New Yorkers who had at one point or another been the victim of someone else’s cruelty. Thinking about how New Yorkers could fall victim to the hands of some very evil people, the events of that day were clearly the work of someone more devious and cunning than many of the worst criminals New York City had to offer.

“One Charlie” the dispatchers’ voice beginning to show the signs of nervousness that was so suitable for the current situation.  “Go central” my partner quickly answered, “Meet up with “conditions 1” at west and Vesey streets.  We told the dispatcher that we were already with him at that location and just then a loud roar like the sound of a million lions and the cool of a quick blink of shade from the mornings clear sun in the shape of an airliner engulfed us all, then BOOM!!! 

A cascade of plane parts building façade human beings and glass all on fire and falling fast showered the civilians that were milling about and us.  A second plane had hit; how could this be?  As if it were not heinous enough that one plane would have struck the World Trade Center, any idea of an accident quickly faded from our minds and it was now clear we were under attack. 

“Get out of here!” the Lieutenant yelled at the top of his lungs, my partner and I scrambled to our vehicle and set out to the east side of the trade center concourse.  As we drove, we dodged hundreds of panicking New Yorkers as they made a mad dash out of lower Manhattan.  As we turned the corner of Liberty Street onto Church Street, we hustled up to the corner of Church Street and Fulton Street.  We again attempted to set up a triage area and treatment center, “Conditions 1” eagerly caught up to us and asked me to become his voice because he had become hoarse from all of the screaming and was now barely audible over the terror of the morning attack.

“Ramos” the Lieutenant’s voice rasped over the sounds of sirens and screams.  “Yes Sir” I replied.  “I need you to try to keep track of the names of the people you treat and the hospitals you send them off to!” he asked.  I thought, “Yeah Right, hundreds are running past me and I am treating people in droves and he wants me to remember to ask for names and remember what unit I put that person on and where they went.”  the statement he made just confirmed to me the fact that all of the emergency services in NYC hadn’t prepared for this, yes we were prepared for a myriad of emergencies, even sarin gas in the subway system, but no one had ever imagined an emergency of this scope and of this particular nature.

My Faith in God was always present; I grew up in a Pentecostal home.  I had not however been a practicing Christian for many, many years before 9-11-01; today, however, my Faith tried to the breaking point, would come away intact.  As I watched the people leaping from the windows to their certain deaths, I asked myself if God would be merciful on them because their choice was simply die burning or die falling.  Today’s events would test my ability to rationalize life as a human and as a spiritual being as well.

We saw Hundreds of patients in a matter of minutes and worked harder in that one morning than perhaps the worst days of my thirteen-year career.  The suffering I saw in these people’s faces, as well as my own fear, made me feel as if I was going to crack, but the training I received seemed to take over in spite of myself. 

The sounds of the bodies hitting the ground echoed in my head as I tried to focus on the mortal injuries constantly placed in front of me.  I do not know exactly the time I spent doing double duty as a voice for the Lieutenant and caregiver for the injured.  The loud rumble, which was like the sound of a thousand freight trains heading straight for me all at once, shook me out of the comfort zone of the autonomous work that had become the crux of my morning.

I gazed skyward as the splendor of the  sun quickly became engulfed by the massive debris cloud that quickly formed as the first of the two towers to collapse came screaming earthbound.  I screamed “Oh my God!”  I screamed at the top of my lungs.

“Oh my God”, that exclamation is a statement used by the masses when the circumstances at hand are too great for us to take care of ourselves, and oddly enough those very same words can be heard being uttered from the mouth of even the most stalwart atheist.  I find it amusing that these are the last words of many people, yet so many of us do not believe in the very God we call out to in our most desperate times.  An  atheist seemingly believes in God because to make a conscious choice that God does not exist is to entertain the thought that he might exist, but you choose not to believe in him. 

The loudest screams were silenced first.  Then the inability to breathe, and then see, where stopped quickly afterward, as if to snuff out my very existence, it took several seconds for me to realize what was going on.  I was buried, yet I could hear the tremendous hiss of the dust in the air that was comprised of pulverized desks, chairs, computers, papers, and horribly yes-even people, which had been caught up in the collapsing colossus and where diminished to microscopic dust particles of which would torment my lungs and sinuses for years to come.  

“Xiomara!”  My mind screamed.  This is my daughter’s name.  Xiomara Chanel Ramos, a beautiful 11-year-old girl at the time of the WTC attack, she is developmentally delayed, and life had already been a struggle, full of “OH my God” moments, beginning with the time when her biological mother left us due to Xiomara's disability never to return again not even on birthdays or holidays.

Being a  single father of a developmentally delayed young woman; my world was full of tender times, sour  tears at moments of setback, and resounding laughter in times of triumphs, which included school plays and Jokes her simply formatted mind could conjure up.

 I had said earlier; I grew up in a Pentecostal home.  My mother was a dedicated church member, she always instilled in me hope and the need to trust in God and allow him to do what he needed to do in our lives so that we could fulfill the goals he had made for us since being within our mother’s wombs as per the bible.  My father, on the other hand, would go to church then stop and go back to his alcoholic ways.  When he was a church member and behaving like a Christian he could be quite powerful in his devotion he was very knowledgeable in the word of God, but when he was out in the secular world drinking he could be the most vulgar and abusive man you could find.  It was an interesting time being a child in the Ramos residence where the verbally abusive arguments on behalf of my father were never absent.  My Parents were natives of Puerto Rico  they migrated state side in their mid-twenties where they met and married and had six children, my eldest sister being from my mother’s first marriage made a clan of 7. Life in this family with my father’s colorful arguments and my mother’s prayers made for an interesting set of beliefs in God.  Sometimes Gods mercy seemed prominent when hunger would strike and the pantry was bare and the church would send a care package.  sometimes Gods love seemed absent, when my mother would have just gotten home from a church service and my drunken father would hit her with a barrage of words that could have possibly, had they been fists, knocked down the greatest heavyweight boxing champion of the world.  These two extremes played themselves out over and over in my childhood with variances in their severity, and that in turn had formulated my belief system that God existed and was there, just not too involved.

“I got to get out!  I got to get out!”  My mind reeled at the improbability of making it out of the rubble and dust.  Xiomara’s face was all I could see, and if this were war, she would need my help.  I groped hastily at the loose debris that had cocooned me with the grace of Gods assistance; I made it out of the fallen tower’s remains.  The bright morning had become a hellish gray blur, and the sound of the thermal sensors in the uniforms of my fallen comrades that alert them when they are too close to the heat in a firefight chirped a sorrowful song of the tremendous death toll the FDNY would take on and the world.

 I then remembered that I had left my cellular phone in my vehicle. I made haste towards the vehicle in an attempt to get my phone so I could contact my daughter’s school. Just when I made it to the vehicle I saw it go up in flames and explode. I narrowly escaped the flames, with the hopes of having retrieved my phone dashed, and gasping in short quick bursts with my hand over my mouth to try to filter out the dust. I worked my way down Fulton Street to Broadway using my recollection of the areas geographical makeup and my nine years covering the area as my only means of sight since the dust cloud was far from lifting in the area immediately surrounding the towers. I finally felt my way north slightly on Broadway to the entrance of a Chase Manhattan Bank that made the corners of Fulton and Broadway.  The people in the building were panicking and trying desperately to leave the building, I fell to the floor coughing and choking on the dust that felt like so many shards of glass in my throat.  I quickly composed myself when I realized that through the large plate glass windows that made up the front of the building the visibility was zero percent.  If I had just made it in from out there and could not breathe, then anyone else who hastened to leave the building would inevitably be overcome by the thick acrid dust cloud that entombed all of lower Manhattan.  “STOP, STOP!”  I hollered as best I could, “NO ONE LEAVES!”  I pleaded as I blocked the doors with my body, I was then joined by a firefighter who assisted me with holding the doors and trying to calm the masses that were pressing up against us in an attempt to free themselves from the day’s lunacy.  The crowd slowly dissipated as the rational plea the other firefighter and I made finally sank into their fevered brains.

Once the crowd had gone, I found a phone in one of the offices and phoned Xiomara’s School, I was worried that she would be in danger and that I would have to hunt for her in the city that now I imagined was in total disarray and being attacked by foreign enemies.  Much to my relief they answered the phone.  I successfully fought to resist the temptation to ask if they would accept a collect call from hell.  The secretary assured me that my daughter was safe across the street from the school in the home of her teacher who had become friends with my sister.  then I called that very same sister with whom I shared an apartment and my daughters care  regimen with, she told me that she was fine and that she was on her way to the teacher’s home to get Xiomara and that she would meet me home. 

Home, what a wonderful place to have been right about then, I was tired and sad and my nerve endings were sparking with nervous energy, assured that my daughter and sister were safe, I abandoned my own advice and left the security of the bank to head back towards the WTC.  I had realized that my partner and my Lieutenant were no longer at my side, I needed to find them and help any survivors. 

  I rushed towards the remaining tower.  After doing a preliminary search of the surrounding area and realizing, no one had survived the collapse as evidence of the dismembered remains scattered all around, I cried out to God and asked him to keep me from cracking up mentally so that I could do what needed to be done in the light of this crazy experience.

The roaring, jet fuel-fed flames of the crashed planes had been a bonus to the terrorist's plot against the towers.  They had unwittingly hit the towers strong point, its steel beams,reportedly,  the immense heat from those flames had softened the towers beams, and I had unknowingly become a witness to that, a fact that I almost would have paid for with my very life.  I came closer to the remaining tower and those aforementioned flames had done just what they were created to do they caused the tower to weaken and once again, the sound of what seemed like ten thousand trains came to haunt me once again. 

Midnight in the darkest section of Manhattan could never be as dark as the debris cloud had made the morning of 9-11 right by the towers after they fell, and I was again engulfed by the loneliness and the sadness of the death of thousands in one fell swoop.  My terror of near death experiences happening so close together seared into my mind the need for closeness to God and the importance of not becoming frantic in times of trial.  This time, out there was no real panic, just sheer determination; I got myself away from the mangled wreckage of the building and placed myself on a high point of a twisted metal support beam to see how vast the damage was.  It was as if the city had received a black eye, a one-two punch by a group of cowards that were taking advantage of a sucker punch on a larger foe.

The song of the sorrowful thermal sensor birds blared two-fold now over the vast gouged out a crater that was once the world Trade Center and my heart sank as the grim realization that my capacity as a rescuer was lost here in this massive gravesite.  The air was still very, very thick.  I worked my way back to the area around Fulton Street.  Once again counting on my knowledge of the area and my years of having covered that section of lower Manhattan to guide me back to safety, I ran into the Lieutenant much to my relief, I felt happy it was one less casualty to worry about, and he and I locked arms and struggled to breathe.  We came to rest in the doorway of a sandwich shop on Fulton Street and as lucidity ebbed from us due to oxygen deprivation, we pounded on the glass door to try to gain entrance to the store since we had seen the silhouettes of people moving around in the store. 

. My mind drifted back and forth to happier times of my life.  Those were the times when I “thought” things were good.  I came to the realization that my life in times of separation from God was very much in disarray.  I had always been pretty popular at work and in school and hardly ever had trouble making friends and I thought that was all life was really about, how popular you could be, how well you did your job, how much money you could acquire, boy was I disillusioned.  Right there at the front door to that sandwich shop these things did not amount to anything, where were my friends?  How could money get me out of this spot?  I guess the popularity factor would have only mattered in determining the number of folks attending my funeral service, nice, very nice, a crowded funeral and I would be the guest of honor.  Who needs that right? 

One thing that would matter, is where I would be going once that funeral was done, and being as the Lieutenant and I were so close to visiting our own, I felt the importance of a relationship with God Yeah I know, another person clamoring to God right when they are at deaths door, real noble right.  At that moment I came into close contact with God, I asked him to spare my life and this time, the prayer was different from any other I had ever prayed.  The sentiment behind my prayer was truly heartfelt.  I know I had prayed for many things before, a green light on the way to work, a clean pair of socks in the sock drawer before laundry day, but I had never really thought that prayer could be so serious and as powerful as I did that day.  Some people might criticize me and say that it was easy to go to God when you were going to die, well guess what, God does not really care when and where we finally decide to come to him.  God just wants us to show up, and definitely wants us to show up before we are guests of our own funerals.  Man, how many of the poor souls jumping out of those windows and the ones caught in the collapses did not come to God when they had the opportunity before they became the guests of honor?  But better yet how many had just come to him the night before at a church service in their neighborhoods, or by just simply having prayed with a good Christian that was concerned enough about them to think about their souls and eternity, and where they would be spending it.  Even if their funerals were packed with grievers or empty with no one to cry for them.

One of the workers from the sandwich shop finally overcame his fear of the ominous debris cloud and found the courage to go against the advice of the others in the store that told him not to open the door.

As the door swung wide, the Lieutenant and I fell into the now open doorway, close to unconsciousness.  the less affected air in the store quickly brought us back to the present moment and the daunting task of convincing the ten or so people in that store to abandon the security of being inside the store and to come outside to flee to safer areas.  After what seemed like a short eternity of pleading, I gave them the information on how the air conditioning unit in the store had a main feed vent on the roof a fact that meant it would not be long before the store itself would become a grave not unlike Pompeii.  The stores occupants decided to trust us and follow us out with wet towels over their faces to aid in breathing.  We made our way to NYU Downtown Hospital to see if we could find a safe haven for the store occupants.  In hindsight I was relieved to have run into my Lieutenant, he had made it, and so did I.  He and I quickly gathered resources and put together a triage area for the lesser injured people in the lobby of 49 Fulton Street to try to offset the deluge of injured people in the hospitals cramped emergency room. 

As we placed the equipment and medical supplies in the lobby of the building, which is a senior citizen residence, I could not help but remember the view I had from the raised pillar from the collapsed tower and seeing the devastation I thought to myself “why are we getting all this stuff together?  There’s almost no one left to treat.”  However, I guess I just continued searching and setting up the area to keep my mind focused on something other than the things I had seen this morning.  After finishing setting up the lobby and then staffing it with volunteers and paramedics, the Lieutenant and I headed out to the triage area the FDNY had set up on West Street and Chambers street. 

The triage area was full of rescue and emergency personnel from all over the state and city. It was amazing to see all the unity of my fellow rescuers. I knew we could all come together and pull through in times of trouble and the various emergency services had already put into place what they call joint effort programs in the event a tragedy would overtax the resources of one individual service. 

To sees the scope of cooperation that had evolved from this disaster showed me that human resolve to accomplish a goal is a clear picture of Gods great design. Maybe that is why he loves us. It is rare to find a person who has an absolute absence of the spiritual necessity to care for others. It is this divine encoding that the Lord has placed in every person created by him that I imagine, in my own thoughts, would allow him to have a soft spot in his heart for us.

I know many of you readers would undoubtedly have at one time or another, felt the sting of an unfortunate event in your lives.  Maybe even some of you might have even lost a loved one or an acquaintance in the actual events of 9-11.  Perhaps you are reading this out of a curiosity to know the testimony of someone who was there and survived, and you wished to have an understanding of the coping mechanisms someone in that scenario might have had in place to have to deal with the events.  Well, I will tell you one thing I had no game plan and I even ended up in the psychological ward of St. Vincent’s hospital for over 2 and a half months heavily medicated, until I was able to realize Gods plan for me. I now believe his plan was for me to write this book as an encouragement to others who are facing their own Goliaths.  Therefore, those of you reading this that might not have a game plan for survival in life should not panic.  God is really in control of everything.  It is not a cliché or a bumper sticker it is fact.


“Lieu!”  I screamed out to the conditions Lieutenant, “yeah what’s up Ramos?” he answered, “I am not feeling right I need to be in there with the guys helping!”  “So then get in there,” he told me.  I went into the fray to try my best to do something, anything to try to feel a sense of accomplishment because as a rescuer, the scope of the disaster definitely castrated me mentally, and the need to feel useful and make a dent in the plot of the terrorist encompassed my every fiber.  When I returned to ground zero, I was  back in the absolute lunacy of the day.  I jumped on a Gator (one of the small four-wheeled vehicles used in NYC’s happier special events like fairs and parades, today it played double duty to the exact opposite. it was a transport for rescuers to get closer to ground zero as well as transporting the dead to the awaiting temporary morgue.).  We bumped awkwardly over the debris towards the center of hell.  

Until that day I hadn’t really ever placed much thought on hell or its host Satan, I sort of just went through life with my blinders on and thought to myself “if I don’t bother him he won’t bother me”.  I never had really realized that he does not care if you are looking for him or trying to avoid him. The Devil is, as the word of the Lord states “like a hungry lion roaming, looking to see who he can devour”;  you see it does not take much to get him to notice you. Try to do something good in the world and you will see his attacks flaring up against you in a heartbeat. You Should Not be mistaken either, be sedentary and not much into caring for yourself or your fellow man or woman, and you will see his insipid ways creep into your life as well, in the form of depression, sloth, and just a general air of disorganization and squalor that will encompass your very existence. You see he really doesn’t care what you're trying to do he just wants you to succeed at becoming a loser, not focused on, and driven towards, the great things that God had intended for you in the divine plan that is you, in fellowship with Christ. I thought that I was being productive with my life.  I thought that helping injured and mentally ill people and saving the physical being was enough.  On the morning of 9-11, I saw that although saving the physical being is admirable, saving the soul was a priority, if the soul is saved, then when and if the attempt to save the physical fails, it is not a true tragedy.  Of course, the person’s physical being is missed here on earth by their loved ones, but if the loved ones are believers in Christ as well, they will find comfort in knowing that they will be reunited with their family member in the glory of heaven. 

I hopped off the Gator as it crept to a slow halt on a pile of crumbled desks.  Running over to the line of rescuers and joined in sifting thru the debris meticulously, making sure to not upset the larger pieces of wreckage since the collapsed trade center had turned itself into a lethal game of pick up sticks.  

I thought and thought of all the ways the people who had perished here today did not have an inkling of what they were to be part of, it made me realize just how precious every day is.  

I know that sounds hokey, and you’re probably groaning and rolling your eyes right now at the obvious epiphany I just stated. If you sit with it, live with it, and become one with it, you would see that every day that goes by that you don’t think of this shard of brilliance, your just wasting time that will never be returned to you. You have no idea how I struggled with the fact that as I sit here writing I could be someplace else doing a myriad of other things, but I felt obligated and yes even commanded by God to share these epiphanies. So many of us just overlook every single day as we allow ourselves to be caught up in the day-to-day grind. I want you to think on this, if behaving Christ-like  is frowned on by the secular world, then why do we feel bad when we do something contrary to it?  When I say Christ-like behavior, I am referring to the act of doing something for someone else.  whether it be taking their garbage out for them without them asking, or offering up your own life in an attempt to save a stranger, as so many Fire, police, and EMS, workers, as well as civilians, did this particular morning.  In the absence of acting in this fashion, we feel unproductive.  you might say there are hermits and people who are shut-ins and those who seem to not to want to help others at all, but if you take a closer look at them and their lifestyle you will see that they are sad inside they lack the blessing of friendships, romantic relationships that are truly good.  The joy of sharing in this wonderful crazy sad but mostly a happy thing we call life is lost for them.

I moved several pieces of debris and stumbled upon a torso badly burned and mutilated.  One thing about it burned into my mind, and stuck with me since I found it, attached to the torso was an arm, at the end of the arm a hand, on that hand a wedding band, bright gold and glimmering in the sun that had finally begun to show slightly through the haze of the debris cloud.  All at once, it struck me that I was focusing on the obvious casualties that had occurred here, but outside of the area of ground zero, there would be others that would be affected in a similar intense way.  I thought of the loved ones of the victims.  The ones that would be home waiting to see if their husband or wife or significant other, space or child would be coming home that evening, In the case of the torso, the answer painfully being a resounding “no”.  Then another terrifying discovery, another torso and in its fused arms a fleshy mass that was a child. “My God” my brain screeched, there were children here as well. That was a thought that my being would not even have considered due to its weight in severity. How could anyone not even consider the children?  No war, not even a “Holy War” should claim the lives of the innocent. The day care center housed many children and I imagine the parents that did not bring in their children due to colds and the like were happy to have met the rhinovirus that day, or a child too afraid to start their first day in day care winning over an overly compassionate parent in their desire to stay home. 

Those facts being just some examples of how God can even cause a supposed bad thing and make it work out for the good.

Although you might be thinking how could God let any of this  happen just want to remind you that  God gave man free will and men have a tendency to go towards to evil and hurting a lot of people rather than helping. Space the people who did this terrible act had no conscience and did not care for anyone else other than himself or herself because in their religion it is good to die as a martyr especially when you are taking the lives of those who do not believe what you believe. Yes, God could have stopped all of these actions, but if God stepped in to stop, everybody’s actions then where would be free will? YOU have to have the choice if you are going to stop or if you are going to continue your actions, especially if it is going to hurt someone else. Unfortunately, many people do not stop long enough to think it out.

I gingerly pulled on the ravaged body parts the mangled massive steel and concrete that was to trade center now. Our orders were clear from our superiors, we were instructed to get them bagged and placed into the Gator so that they could get the appropriate identification tags denoting the grid location and time of day where the piece was found; my mind could not stop thinking about my daughter and how precious she is to me. I could not imagine the unfathomable pain of the parents who lost children that day. 

The grim look on the faces of the rescuers working the pit made my heart ache I had been with these people on other occasions some sad, some happy, and I knew that they felt useless as they dug through the debris. If you trained as a rescue worker police fire or EMS personnel your job is to save people and on really good days, you very successful that but when you are trained to save people and there is no one left to save and all you can do is pick up the pieces there is not much solace in that. I continued to search shoulder to shoulder with these people for what seemed like an eternity. My lieutenant’s voice crackled over my radio, “Central, Conditions 1 here have Ramos of 01 Charlie come back to the M.E.R.V. (Mass casualty Emergency Response Vehicle)” “10-4” I replied, I made my way back towards the M. E. R.V. and I quickly found myself getting shorter and shorter of breath. I had not realized that for the early part of the day the majority of us were unprotected from the debris cloud and the debris still floating in the air read that consisted of human remains, metal, plastic, and all of the things that made up an office and the building surrounding it. I finally arrived at the vehicle and placed a foot up on top of the running board to step into the vehicle I felt dizzy and the next thing I knew I was waking up in the emergency room at New York downtown Hospital. 

One of the triage nurses named Denise walked into the room with tears streaming from eyes. She was worried about me and was worried about Alan my former partner. Denise knew us both from the nine years prior to 9/11, as we were on the same unit whose call sign was 11David.   Because of all those years Alan and I were very tight friends, she used to laugh at the way we argued and often said we reminded her of an old married couple.

“Has anyone heard from Alan have you seen him since this morning?” she asked with her voice quivering “No I’m sorry Denise I have not, the last time I had seen him was this morning.” Up until that moment had not really thought about Alan he was a really a good friend. I was very scared at that time wondering if I was ever to see him again, I knew how he was for some reason he and I were separated and put on separate units about a year before the events of 9/11.

Maybe it was a divine intervention. Maybe God knew that we would both get into trouble trying to rescue people from extremely dangerous areas perhaps we would both perish.

I struggled with the IVs as well as the oxygen mask pulling it off as I struggled to stand upon my feet just at that moment Lieut. Davila entered the room and told me it was time to go home, I had done enough for one day. I wrestled with the idea of having to go home while they were still people trapped and still people searching for those trapped was around 10:30 PM and I was absolutely exhausted. 

The Lieut. had offered me a ride back to the station and given the geographical location of New York downtown hospital from Battalion 4/station 11 and the craziness of the ER and of the evening, I decided to walk back to the station. Perhaps it would clear my mind and help me refocus. I still had not been home, and my daughter would be there with my sister and I knew both of them would be seriously worried about me. I shared an apartment with my sister in the lower west side of Manhattan just a few blocks away from Ground Zero. Up until that day, I had not really thought about where I lived and then realized it would be hard for me seeing the gouge in the New York City skyline from my apartment on the 30th floor of silver towers on Bleecker Street.

As I entered the lobby of the building covered in dust and ash in my uniform, the doorman Allen who was usually very quiet and did not engage much in conversation felt the need to tell me how much of a hero I was for not having run away. Funny I did not feel anything like a hero; I had gotten my butt handed to me by a bunch of crazed terrorists. That, along with the fact that so many had died that day left me feeling very inadequate, a feeling that would haunt me and drive me, along with PTSD, into the emergency room and consequentially the psychiatric ward of St. Vincent’s hospital in September of 2003.

As I quietly rode the elevator to the 30th floor I mind reeled at the events of the day couldn’t believe what had happened there was so much pain in my heart and my mind as I thought of all the people who had  passed away that day young and old alike all of them thinking that they had the rest of their lives to continue their business and to continue doing their chores and never had occurred to me how quickly life can and until that day. Once the elevator stopped on my floor and I reached the doorway of my apartment my hands began to tremble as I realized how close we all had come to dying the door swung open and my daughter grabbed my hand and brought me into the apartment I wanted so badly to hug her but I was so dirty from the filth of Ground Zero that I didn’t want to get any of that on her she wouldn’t take no for an answer she is unable to speak and is developmentally delayed and she used sign language to promptly tell me she was proud of me and wanted cookies  and we hugged in the foyer. (the name of the article comes from that exchange)

My sister then rushed to me she had been crying and she hugged me and welcomed me and I went into the bathroom and took off my uniform and began crying uncontrollably as a went into the shower and allowed the warm water to wash over my body and sweep away the debris of the day I felt saddened at the fact that our country had this happen to it.

Once I finished showering I was able to think a little clearer and began thinking about the next day and how I was going to be assigned to Ground Zero again because it was the P.A.R. (primary area of roving) I couldn’t wait to get back to see if there was any chance of finding anyone in the rubble.

The next day I arrived at the station and was determined to try to find at least some survivors are at the very least be able to give the dignity of a decent burial to someone who didn’t make it. Unfortunately, that day my unit was assigned to attend to the regular calls to 911 in New York City for my area and I was spared the drudgery of Ground Zero for that day but in the coming days and weeks and months afterwards I would spend a lot of time down in Ground Zero in the temporary morgue immediately after 9/11 and as standby unit for anyone who might’ve gotten injured while digging in the debris and clearing it. It was a surreal feeling to the area surrounding the Trade Ctr., Hayes still lingered in the air for many days afterwards and the Trinity church that stood only feet away from Ground Zero and remained intact was a hotbed of activity where many beautiful New Yorkers had volunteered their time and services to help us in our rescue and recovery efforts.

Many chiropractors’, masseuses’, doctors and physical therapists offer their services to us free of charge in between our tours of digging. The way New York put their arms around its emergency services after 9/11 was a refreshing feeling that arose in me a new hope for humanity just days before 9/11 people were yelling at us to turn off our Sirens trying to get calls and wouldn’t move out of our way when we were on the road trying to respond to a call but after 9/11 everyone seemed to care whole lot more and as I continued my tour in Ground Zero in the morgue we dug up the remains of a fire captain who was only held together by his turnout coat and pants. I was assigned the task of driving the unit that would take the corpses of fire police and EMS personnel to the morgue at Bellevue Hospital, and as I rolled silently up the W. Side Hwy. the street had gotten lined by New Yorkers holding banners and signs chairing us on and calling us heroes, and I will not lie I got angry because of the reasons I stated before how most of New Yorkers didn’t care about us or gave us a second thought before 9/11 in fact, many of them gave us a hard time on the scenes of assignments and never got out of the way while we were rolling towards our assignment with their lights and sirens on.

I believe all of this inward anger against the terrorists who attacked us and the seemingly flippant attitude of New Yorkers prior to 9/11 and their apparent dedication to us post 9/11 began wearing on me that along with the bodies of those victims who didn’t make it in the recovery of the pieces of the survivors or on me terribly.

In September 2003 I began having flashbacks nightmares and a really hard time with certain smells and loud noises, I recall totally freezing while on the phone with my sister because a jet had flown over at a low altitude and I recall her having to talk me down from wanting to dive under a parked vehicle. All of these things came to a head and I ended up in the psychiatric ward of St. Francis Hospital.

While in the hospital I was heavily medicated and suffered hours of group therapy with people who had no idea what I was talking about and could never understand what I was going through. I understand it was good intentions by the doctors for placing me in groups like that did not help me in the medications only serve to destroy my capability to remember current things and damaged my long-term memory. I had many doctors while in the hospital there all of which would prescribe different cocktails of medications to try to help me, but none of them did. I recall endless nights of laying down staring at the ceiling with visions of what had happened in my head and sleeping two whole days because the medication that was given to me had made a zombie out of me.

I was in a relationship and lost that relationship because the women I was with could not handle the way the medications, 9/11, and all the things that I had been through had changed me I was no longer the same person. To this day I still struggle with who I am I try to remember my life before 9/11 and some parts come in bits and pieces I know I was good at my job because I see that I have commendations and letters  patients who took the time to write to the chief  would result in station citations but other than that I have very little recollection of my career as an EMT.

A lot of this writing comes from spoken testimony from interviews done immediately after 9/11 and debriefings most of it I cannot clearly recollect, but with the small amount of recollections that I actually do have in my mind and the testimonies and debriefings notes that I have I have been able to piece to spec together in my mind. They say that not being able to remember is a good thing sometimes because your body represses the terrorists been through but when it’s part of your life and you can’t remember most of your life is very unnerving.

So now I endeavor to create a new me start a new life one that still has a portion of rescuer and it because I believe that’s in my very nature, but also, one of a person who can find compassion and beauty even in the worst situations.

I want to thank you for reading this short story and ask you to please remember 9/11 because sometimes it seems that most Americans have already forgotten. The civilian survivors and emergency personnel survivors still suffer till today from the events of that day so many years ago. It is  eternally seared into our conscience and into our souls and into our minds, and every day we struggle to be freed from its evil grip some are capable of doing so others such as myself included still struggle with it.

I am working diligently to help others and in doing so trying to help myself to heal from this event, I hope you wish me well on my journey.

Rock Ramos FDNY-EMSC 2143 (Retired) (The Image is me leaving (Left Side) after having been interviewed by MSNBC)