A Work Day Like No Other
By JORDAN MOSS
Late in the afternoon on Sept. 11, 2001, Norwood News editor Jordan Moss and reporter Hannan Adely walked around the neighborhood. The streets were quiet and relatively empty. But in and around the community's institutions, people in all types of jobs were responding to a tragedy the likes of which they probably never contemplated. We were able to capture some of the professionalism and resoluteness evidenced that day in photographs that appeared in the paper that week. A year after that awful day, we decided to go back and interview some of the people we captured on film to ask them about that day and their lives since.
F-16s Overhead and a Call to Service
Police Officers William McAloon and Gerald Healey probably would have been at home after their midnight to 8 a.m. shift, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
But, as they recounted almost a year later seated at a picnic table behind the precinct, because both men had made arrests that morning, they were traveling together in a van back from central booking on 161st Street after dropping their prisoners off when the news came over their mobile digital devices that the first plane had hit the World Trade Center. When they heard news of the second plane, they knew they wouldn't be going home anytime soon, and McAloon, who is a reservist in the National Guard, knew he might be deployed somewhere else entirely. "I'm going to go somewhere," he remembers telling himself.
Both men have served overseas in the military, Healey as a marine in the Gulf War, and McAloon in the National Guard with two six-month tours in Bosnia and another in Macedonia. They are used to being in war zones far from home. But nothing could prepare them for the sight of U.S. fighter planes rumbling through the crystal clear Bronx sky that day.
"I remember fully loaded F-16s [fighter jets] flying right over Webster Avenue and Mosholu Parkway," McAloon remembered. "You get a chill up your spine. We were under attack."
There was a sense of eerie frustration much of the day. They could hear noises from the horror downtown coming through their radios, but there was little they could do but watch and wait. "There was so much chaos going on on the radio," McAloon remembers.
The two were assigned to a rooftop across the street from the precinct for a while and then to station house security, which was when the Norwood News photo was taken.
But later that very same day, McAloon would be called up by his Guard unit and deployed downtown.
"I would never believe I'd get deployed with my unit and march down to the World Trade Center that night," McAloon said. He and his fellow Guardsmen commandeered two city buses in northern Manhattan. He spent the next 15 days near Ground Zero, setting up a perimeter and standing guard to check credentials of volunteers and others who had access to the site.
He then would spend the next eight months on homeland security duty guarding the area near the metal detectors at Kennedy Airport. He just returned to his job as a police officer after three weeks reinstatement training.
Healey, who worked straight into Sept. 13, was assigned to a traffic post on 14th Street after patrol duty on University Avenue and Fordham Road.
Depending on world events, McAloon says he could get called up for another tour of duty with his Guard unit. If there's a massive land invasion of Iraq, for instance, he could be sent overseas, or he could be assigned to homeland security once again.
"If I'm called up to go, I'll definitely go," he said. "I believe there's still some unfinished business [in Iraq] ..." Healey is no longer in the military but he agreed with his fellow officer.
As for this Sept. 11, officers were being told to pay special attention to the Jerome Park Reservoir and to suspicious packages. Healey said officers were being assigned to regular tours in the precinct, "but that could change," he said.
Making Sure the Kids Were OK
Bob Weinstein, principal of PS 8, is a lead principal in the district, providing support to other principals in their schools. On Sept. 11, he left PS 8 in Bedford Park by 8 a.m to another school. He heard about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center while at that school and decided, before it was clear how big and how serious the crash was, to head back to PS 8.
Weinstein predicted that parents were going to want to take their kids home. "All personnel who were out of the classroom were told to report to me right away to get ready for procedures to send children home," Weinstein said. His prediction was correct.
"All of a sudden it was a swarm," Weinstein remembered. "Their reaction was, 'I need to be with my child right now.'" When parents arrive, school administrators sent individual personnel to get the kids from their classrooms and bring them downstairs. "We signed them out for the day, and the parents took them home," Weinstein said. "This happened from the time the planes hit until 2:30 in the afternoon."
While the news spread among teachers and staff through word of mouth, Weinstein decided they shouldn't be told what happened in class.
"I made a decisions as a principal to have the parents tell their children," he said. "The parents should have the right to inform their children about what had happened." The kids were only told, 'Something has happened and your parent will tell you about it on the way home.""
Because of this procedure, releasing the children to their parents went very well. "We didn't have kids freaking out," Weinstein said.
Schools citywide were closed the next day, but on the 13th, PS 8 set up a "safe room" in the library where counselors and other support personnel were available to talk to children who needed to talk. In class, kids were encouraged to talk and ask questions.
But it wasn't long before the school found itself back to the usual routine of teaching and learning. "Children have a way of bouncing back sometimes better than us adults," Weinstein said.
For the anniversary, the school purchased a book called "Messages From Ground Zero," featuring writing of children and their reflections on the tragedy. The safe room will be set up again in the library and made available for adults as well.
There will be also a moment of silence in the morning. "For one minute, we're going to be quiet, at the exact time when the first plane hit," Weinstein said.
Lesson From Tragedy:
Dr. Joan Uehlinger and her staff at Montefiore Medical Center's Blood Bank didn't need a TV or a radio to find out what was going on at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. They saw it all out the windows of their 8th floor office which face south.
Uehlinger arrived at 8 that morning. As she was reviewing the charts from the previous evening, a blood bank technologist started yelling that there was smoke coming out of the World Trade Center. "As we were watching, we saw the second tower explode," she said. "It was such a clear day, we could literally see it all happening out the window."
And when that second plane hit, the reality of the situation was as clear as that September day. "As soon as we saw the second explosion, we knew it wasn't a random thing," Uehlinger recalls. "It was an attack. Everyone knew right away."
And they knew that their jobs couldn't be more important than at that particular moment.
"The first thing we started thinking about was, how much blood do we have on the shelf?" Uehlinger recalled. "We can't use blood from people who are going to donate in two hours. The only blood that was good for people, the injured, was what was on our shelf. "But people need to donate blood when something like that happens," Uehlinger said. "They need to do something."
That proved true as hundreds of Montefiore employees and community residents lined up in the blood bank offices to donate blood. "That whole day was just collecting blood," Uehlinger recalled. "There were like hundreds of people here ... We didn't know what was going to happen. Were there going to be more attacks? We had more than 1,000 names plus the couple of hundred that we actually took donations from.
The outpouring was just enormous." The blood bank collected 200 units of blood before asking donors to leave their names and numbers in case they were needed
For Uehlinger and her staff, this response underscores a point that there is no better time to make than now. If you want to help people, the time to give blood is before a tragedy strikes, not after. Blood donations must be tested and processed and all that takes precious time. That's why blood banks encourage people to give blood regularly. Uehlinger mentioned a group of IRS employees in the Bronx that come to give blood every September, a time when reserves are usually low.
"We know that people care," she said. "They just don't have time. You gotta make time."
That day, communications were down with much of Manhattan and Uehlinger could not reach the Blood Center which is the regional supplier of blood for area hospitals.
In the end, because there were few casualties who survived, no blood was needed at Montefiore and only 1,000 units were used citywide. "In the history of disasters, that's normally what happens," Uehlinger said. "[It's] so bad that people walk away or they die."
In a profession trained to come through in times of crisis, that reality was the hardest to take. "I think all of us just wish we'd been needed more, you know?" Uehlinger said.
Ed. note: To donate blood at Montefiore, call 920-4810.
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