Ten years have passed since terrorists attacked U.S. soil, but for some area residents, it feels like yesterday.
For those who walked around the remains of the twin towers the day after they fell, there’s no doubt what they saw.
“It looked like a war,” said Beacon Falls Deputy Emergency Manager Jeremy Rodorigo, who delivered supplies to ground zero on Sept. 12, 2001, “just broken buildings and rubber everywhere and vehicles on fire and people just kind of wandering around. … It was definitely an experience that I don’t think any of us will forget.”
Dr. Greg Rocchio of Naugatuck Family Chiropractic echoed Rodorigo’s description of the site as a war zone when he arrived the morning after the attacks. Marines with machine guns guarded the perimeter of the disaster area, he said.
“To get through the perimeter was an event in itself,” Rocchio said.
“When you’re standing in an inch of white powder, it really hit home what had happened the day before,” Rocchio said. “The day we were there it was smoking. The smell was absolutely horrible. … This dark smoke was just going through this gorgeous blue sky that day.”
When the twin towers came crashing down on Sept. 11, 2001, members of the Beacon Falls Hose Company No. 1 were, like most of the country, glued to the television news, according to Rodorigo.
When Rodorigo and his fellow firefighters heard the call for supplies, they knew they had to respond.
They made a few quick phone calls—to Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and Peter Paul. The morning of Sept. 12, 2001 they packed their ambulance and the chief’s car full of dust masks, work gloves, socks, shirts, and candy and headed in to New York City.
Not knowing they were supposed to bring supplies to the Javits Center, the Beacon Hose crew headed straight for ground zero.
Since they were driving an ambulance, everyone waived them through.
“When we got there, it was a good thing that we did (go to ground zero),” Rodorigo said.
Rescue workers were still having trouble coordinating supplies from the Javits Center.
“When we showed up with our masks and our gloves, it was like we were handing out gold to these workers,” Rodorigo said. “We were walking around ankle deep in debris and piles of stuff …and people were like ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”
While the Beacon Hose firefighters were handing out supplies, a blast alarm went off, signifying immanent collapse.
“Literally, it was a wall of people I’m looking at …turn around and run full tilt at me. … It’s a wall of people running for their lives. … That was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life,” Rodorigo said.
One memory that sticks out in Rodorigo’s mind is an elderly Salvation Army volunteer in an Oxford shirt and skirt walking around with a box of donuts.
“She’s walking around in all this debris and gook and stuff and handing out donuts … It’s not where you’d expect to see a little old lady. … You saw a lot of people doing what they thought was right to help,” Rodorigo said.
After six hours handing out supplies, the crew headed back to the Beacon Falls fire house. By the time they got back, the other firefighters had already established a collection point for supplies to bring to New York. A group of firefighters painted the entire apron of firehouse as an American flag and held a memorial service there the following week.
“We are firemen and EMTs. They didn’t need us for that. We did what we thought they needed us to do, which is bring supplies,” Rodorigo said.
After seeing what the relief workers were going through in terms of the heavy lifting, their exposure to the contaminants, and their long hours of tiresome work, Rocchio could see his chiropractic skills were needed.
Early on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001 he packed up his chiropractic adjusting tables and headed in to the city.
Rocchio went to work realigning backs on the sidewalk of New York City’s Church Street.
“People who had been laboring all day and night … were coming out of the rubble bent over, all achy, sleeping on cots,” Rocchio said.
After he fixed them up, relief workers went right back in for a second shift.
“It was just amazing to see all the people who were coming in,” Rocchio said.
Rocchio estimates he gave chiropractic adjustments to 500 to 600 people that day over a 14 hour span.
Rocchio said the biggest thing he remembers about his experience that day was everyone’s generosity from Red Cross workers, to Home Depot bringing supplies, to restaurants bringing food.
For people who did not experience that scene firsthand, Rocchio said, 10 years may have erased memories about that day and those who served.
“Because of the first-hand look I had at the site, it’s something I’ll never forget,” Rocchio said.
Rocchio said he returned later to the site after all the rubble had been cleared away.
“When you’re walking around the site down there … there’s just a sense of quietness, like a very somber atmosphere,” Rocchio said. “There’s hope that as years go by that the general public will not forget the people and the events that happened. In our lifetime, it’s absolutely the most tragic event and hopefully nothing will top it.”