By Erika Pedroza
Originally published Sunday, September 11, 2011
For eight months and 19 days, 91,000 people aided in the cleanup and recovery of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the nation.
For 10 of those days, Chuck Stone of Newark and 11 others with the Top of Texas Disaster Relief Team volunteered in those efforts during February 2002.
Split into two, six-man shifts, the group volunteered during February 2012 in a cafeteria under a football field-sized tent just a couple hundred feet from Ground Zero. Daily they fed about 1,000 firefighters, police officers, emergency medical services personnel and state employees working on-site.
“It was quite the experience and privilege to be able to do that at the time,” Stone said. “Ten years later, I still think of it quite a bit – what I went through, what everybody there went through. What I found really neat was the camaraderie, the unity, in spite of what we were having to go through. It was awesome to witness that.”
The volunteers prepared food donated by establishments that were closed because of their proximity to the site of the attacks.
“We had all types of food – seafood, Asian food, high-dollar food,” Stone said. “We cooked breakfast, lunch and supper in that 500-seat cafeteria.”
As part of the morning shift, Stone started his work at 7 a.m. and was relieved at 3 p.m. to tour and explore the city.
“While I got to see a lot of neat things -Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theater – I saw a lot of somber things,” Stone said. “When I went walking around in my free time, I saw a lot of memorial T-shirts, flags on fences, personal memorials, flowers. It was pretty somber to see all of that.
“It was a painful reminder that our country had been attacked.”
Another indication of the extent of the tragedy really struck Stone.
“They would ring a bell when they found someone,” Stone said. “I was there in February, so it had been a while. But I’d still hear it ring about two or three times a day. That’s really stuck in my mind, even now.”
Two or three times a year, he receives a survey regarding his well-being from the World Trade Center Health Registry inquiring about the effects of the environmental hazards and gruesome sights at Ground Zero.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the New York City Health Department established this entity in 2002 to monitor the health of those, such as Stone, directly exposed to the disaster.
“They ask how our health is, how our experience over there is affecting us,” he said. “It’s a good thing they’re keeping up with us.”
And according to the 9/11 Health website, they will continue to do so for the next 20 years.
Fortunately, Stone has not shown any ill effects, perhaps because he wasn’t dispatched to volunteer until five months after the attack, and his time there was limited to 10 days.
For others, however, this isn’t the case.
Common mental health issues include sleep disturbance, excessive fatigue and irritability. Common physical ailments include respiratory symptoms such as asthma and dry cough.
According to the site, 25,000 of the more than 91,000 rescue, recovery and cleanup workers and volunteers are enrolled in the registry.
Of that number, 12 percent report developing new-onset asthma since working at Ground Zero.
Ninety-nine percent of exposed firefighters within the first week reported at least one new respiratory symptom while working at the World Trade Center site.
A New York State Department of Health study of 43 World Trade Center responders found that their blood contained higher rates of chemicals that are normally released when solid municipal waste is burned than the general population.
The prevalence of probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among rescue and recovery workers enrolled in the registry increased from 12.1 percent two to three years after the attacks to 19.5 percent five to six years after the attacks.
“We’re still dealing with the effects,” Stone said. “Luckily, (volunteer experience) hasn’t made me sick, but (9/11) still affects me. We will never forget.”
Related link: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/wtc
Look for more of WCMessenger.com’s special 9/11 tribute at www.wcmessenger.com/911.