It was with some dismay this morning that while surfing through news stories on the Internet that I came across the following: More 9/11 Emergency Calls to Be Released. As an Emergency Medical Dispatcher and someone who not only listens to but talks on 911 for a living, I see no good reason for the release of these tapes unless you're trying to prevent a wound from healing by constantly picking off the scab.
I honestly don't know why the general public wants to listen to these tapes unless it's simply morbid curiosity. What good is it going to do anyone? It's merely going to send those people who were on the other end of the phone lines right back down into the pit of depression which they probably haven't managed to climb all the way out of yet anyway.
Have you ever listened to the sounds of someone dying on the other end of a phone line and known that there was not a damned thing that you could do about it? I have and I can tell you that it's a horrible, horrible thing. I have been on the listening end of a man being shot to death in a local bar, I have been on the listening end of a young woman taking her last gasp of breath during a fatal asthma attack, and I was sitting on the other side of the radio console when four children died in the Lake Street fire in Norwich in November of 2001. Is there anyone out there who thinks that I just ended my shift and went home totally oblivious to those things? No - I did not.
It's my job as an emergency services operator and dispatcher to gather the information from the caller and pass it on to the responding units in a calm and professional manner but that doesn't mean my care and concern ends when I hang up the phone. It doesn't end when I broadcast that information over the radio. And it doesn't end when I clock out at the end of my shift. Those voices go home with me and sometimes they keep me awake at night.
If that's how I feel over the "small" losses that I deal with, how do you think it affects my brethren dispatchers down in New York City? I can't even imagine being behind their consoles on 9/11; I can't even imagine being behind their consoles now almost five years later. And now some of them to get to relive that tragic day all over again with the release of more tapes. Why? Again I ask - what good does it do? Is it going to bring anyone back? Is it going to make anyone feel any better? Are we supposed to believe that it's not going to induce more finger-pointing?
The plain and simple truth is that NO ONE in New York City was prepared for what happened that day - NO ONE. And how could they have been? Who sits around and comes up with the unthinkable scenario of flying not one but two planes into the two tallest buildings in the City and then tries to figure out how best to handle that? There is no doubt in my mind that NYC probably has one of the finest Disaster Preparedness Plans in place than any city anywhere in the world but how do you plan for the unthinkable, for the unimaginable? You can't.
People in New York did the best they could that day - the firefighters, the police officers, the 911 operators and dispatchers - all of them. I doubt that there is anyone anywhere that could have performed better under the circumstances than they did. The rest of the world relived that horror through television and radio but there's no comparison to the people who lived it right there in New York in real-time.
I asked Andrew Duval, a paramedic at American who has also been a dispatcher at Quinebaug Valley Emergency Commucations for almost ten years, what he thought of the release of more tapes and he told me, "I understand and respect the country's "right to know" about everything that occurred on that day but some things shouldn't be re-hashed. Every time I see pictures or footage of September 11, 2001 I begin to well up and get a lump in my throat. I remember thinking about all of the Emergency Services workers entering the Towers and the thousands of innocent employees just doing their jobs when the planes hit the Towers. Releasing the 911 tapes of some poor completely helpless Dispatcher doing his/her job really isn't going to do anything but confirm what we already know. There is NO Fire or Police Department in the world capable of handling what went on that day. Regardless of who they are."
As for that day, Andrew said, "I was dispatching that night at American. I was the one that offically dispatched the call for our three ambulances to go and stand-by. QVEC was forming a list of personnel and equipment ready to be deployed in conjunction with the CT Fire Academy. They were, at one point, in desperate need of Dispatchers both for Ground Zero and for the rest of the City. I had already packed a "go bag" and was waiting for a phone call. Never happened and looking back I am kinda glad I didn't go. The stories I am hearing and reading, I don't think I could have come back and worked in EMS again."
While working across the street at Norwich PD that night, I remember thinking that as hard as my job was sometimes, it couldn't possibly compare to what the dispatchers in New York City, Washington DC, and a small town in Pennsylvania were going through. And I'm sure they will continue to go through it for the rest of their lives. Over and over and over again. I'm sure they're hard enough on themselves, maybe the rest of the country could give them a break and not be so hell-bent on releasing tapes that will do no good to anyone who either lived or died on that most horrific of days.