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No Time to Cut WTC Workers

From the Irish Echo

November 13, 2001

By Niall O'Dowd

Among the saddest scenes which we have witnesses since September 11 surely occurred last week when firefighters and police officers clashed near the rubble of the World Trade Center towers over the cutting back of the numbers working in the wreckage to retrieve bodies. The proposed move was made in order to allow the massive diggers to do their work more quickly.

The angry confrontation seen all over the world on television was a tragic and unnecessary postscript to an extraordinary and brave chapter in the history of both organizations.

The police were, of course, acting on the orders of the city and the mayor who wanted to enforce the new rules as soon as possible to expedite clearance of the rubble. Yet it seems a premature move which makes the task of identifying those who are still buried in the rubble all the more difficult.

Now it is more likely that the bodies will be scooped up among the general rubble and transported to the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, where bodies or body parts may or may not be unearthed.

For the firefighters the pain is undeniable and very real. The bodies of hundreds of their comrades, especially those trapped at the base of the towers during the attack, have still to be found, yet the city wants to cut back on their numbers who are working at the site.

Consider too that firefighters are more like a fraternity, a band of brothers more than any other profession. They spend 24-hour shifts together, eating, sleeping and fighting fires, in highly dangerous environments.

Like the Marines they will refuse to leave anyone behind if they can at all prevent it. It is notable that speaking to many people involved in the efforts surrounding September 11, it seems to me that the firefighters are the most deeply affected. Some are clearly still in shock at the loss of so many of their comrades.

Imagine the daily nightmare for those families of firefighters still desperately awaiting news of their loved ones. There are also the thousands of other relatives who have lost loved ones║brokers, kitchen help, construction workers and other professions in the World Trade Center who yearn most of all that their bodies will be found.

The lack of a body makes the grieving process that much harder, and closure is that much more difficult to attain. Anyone who has attended services as against funerals for the missing can readily attest to how difficult it is for the families and friends.

It is a human need to have that last time with the beloved one, to kiss the coffin or to carry it to the graveside before dispatching it to the hereafter. Grim a task as it may be, it offers a finality and a closure that the grieving ones can hang on to.

That is why the search should continue for every last body and remains in the rubble. The firemen and others should be allowed to continue their grim work at full strength in numbers.

The World Trade Center sites are now hallowed and sacred ground. The bodies that lie there are part of one of the most solemn resting places in American history. It is not too much to ask for the sake of the firefighters and the other families that every effort is made to return the bodies of loved ones to their immediate families.

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