Courtesy of Matt Harblin
Firefighters comb through debris in the World Financial Center atrium.

      Immediately after the towers collapsed, lime dust from the pulverized concrete caused severe eye irritation for rescue workers, and after the rain of a few days later, the concrete dust hardened, making it more difficult to dig through the twisted remnants of the 110-story buildings. Many rescuers suffered cuts from jagged pieces of metal, and others were overcome by the stench at the site. Because of such extreme work conditions, Smith and his fellow firefighters are suffering from a variety of health problems. “OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] and the U.S. Public Health Service are monitoring the air quality, and we have been supplied with goggles and respirators,” Smith says. “I keep going back to the site because until we get all the firefighters out of the rubble, my place is there.”

  The fire department is offering counseling to its members and providing financial assistance through special disaster relief funds to the families of the 343 firefighters who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. “There is an outpouring of support from around the country,” Smith says. “We’ve been getting donations and letters from everywhere. All of us at the firehouses are on edge, and the letters are very comforting—especially the ones from children. Somehow kids know how to express the right thing.”
      The terrorist attacks have caused many New York City firefighters to rethink their choice of occupation. Smith, however, has no intention of leaving the department. “I really think a New York City fireman is what I am—it’s what I was meant to be,” he says. “The older members of the department tell us that someday we will laugh again.”

—Christine Yackel

A Matter of Minutes

ELLEN SAMMON HARBLIN G’97 WAS still asleep when her mother called the morning of September 11. With urgency in her voice, her mother told her about the World Trade Center attack and wanted to know where in Manhattan Ellen’s husband, Matt Harblin ’93, G’96, worked. “My blood got hot. I hadn’t even brushed my hair yet, and already the word ‘widow’ crossed my mind,” Ellen says. “Within minutes, friends and family began calling to ask about Matt.”
      Ellen knew her husband walked through the World Trade Center plaza each morning to his office in the World Financial Center. For the next hour she anxiously watched TV news reports and waited to hear from Matt, the son of Tom Harblin, SU’s vice president for giving programs. “Before I knew it, the towers had crumbled,” she says. “Our young daughter, Lilly, didn’t understand what was happening, but she sensed my growing hysteria and tried to calm me down.”
      Matt Harblin’s subway ride into work that morning took longer than usual. He stepped out of the station at 8:50 a.m.—just two minutes after the first terrorist strike. As he made his way out of the subway, he noticed groups of people standing in the middle of the road looking up. “I saw pieces of what looked like drywall and insulation all over the road and sidewalk,” he says. “I looked up and saw a big hole high up in the trade center’s north tower [Tower I], with flames and black smoke pouring out and reams of paper floating through the air.”

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Main Home Page Contents Chancellor's Message Opening Remarks
Reflections In Memoriam Time of Terror Lessons of Hope
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