News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 25, 2011

Emergency responders share stories of survival, heroism

Thousands answered call during nation's tragedy

By Jeff Schnaufer
CTW FEATURES

NEW YORK — It was a beautiful, sunny, 70-degree morning with clear blue skies. Police Capt. Terry Revella (Ret.) of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was on his way to work at his NYC headquarters when a dispatcher radioed him and said, “Captain, you need to get to the World Trade Center ASAP. A plane just crashed into it.”

On the other end of the country on that same September morning 10 years ago, Debra Tosch was attending a canine search specialist class in Washington state when she heard of the attack. In North Carolina, Greensboro Fire Department Assistant Chief Alan “Skip” Nix was serving as the safety/special operations officer. In the hours and days following the most devastating attack on American soil in modern history, Revella, Tosch and Nix would aid their fellow Americans in their own ways. Their stories and how they are working to remember 9/11 today are below.

The Haunting at Ground Zero

Revella pulled up next to the north tower of the WTC and could see the gaping hole that plane put into its side. The exact outline of the wings and fuselage was visible.

“I met up with one of my officers, Jeff Cox, and we had just started to run up to the north tower when Jeff said, ‘Captain, what are those black dots around the outside of the tower?’” Revella recalls. “I said, ‘They’re people, Jeff.’ He said, ‘No. That can’t be.’”

As people started to jump, one by one, two by two, Revella and Cox could see they were, in fact, hundreds of desperate souls deciding their own fate.

“This moment has remained the most difficult and haunting to me to this day,” Revella says.

Moments later, Revella and Cox were briefly trapped when the south tower collapsed. They were found by a firefighter, then went to work.

“We immediately started to set up an Incident Command Post at Public School 89, which is about ten blocks from the WTC,” says Revella. He did not return home for 17 days. “I served as the on-scene coordinator for the governor, to the city. While there, I provided assistance and instruction in getting backhoes, bulldozers … anything else that was needed to remove debris in hopes of rescuing survivors.”

Now living in Las Vegas, Revella is coordinating one of the largest 9/11 remembrance events in the West; 911 Remembrance Las Vegas, to be held Sept. 9 through 11, will include a heroes parade and race/walk, among other events. “Our event is going to show that unity and spirit of America we had on 9/11,” Revella says.

A National Effort

Debra Tosch and her canine partner, a black Labrador named Abby, were part of the second group of search-dog teams, arriving at ground zero about 11 days after the attacks.

“We would search when requested, and when not searching with Abby I would work with another handler and use one of the search cameras,” Tosch recalls. “We did not find anyone, but I feel confident that we did our job of making sure no one was left behind.”

Tosch went on to become executive director of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation in Ojai, Calif. The experience of 9/11 helped her realize the importance of training.

“It has motivated me to have the Search Dog Foundation build a National Training Center ... handlers from all across the country can come train on deployment scenario props that are designed to prepare them for the most difficult deployments they may face,” Tosch says.

A 9/11 anniversary event is planned“to bring handlers and supporters of the Search Dog Foundation to the site of the National Training Center and unveil the beginning of the construction. Handlers perform a demonstration and a Canine Memorial Wall will be unveiled.  Tosch is hoping to open the training center Sept. 11, 2012.

A Friend In Need

Being in North Carolina, Nix was not geographically close to any of the events on 9/11. But when the terrorist attack occurred, he received a call from the wife of one of the firefighters in New York who was dispatched to the twin towers. She lived in Greensboro, and two of her daughters were attending college in Charlotte, about an hour and a half away.

“We sent two firefighters to the school and brought her kids back to Greensboro to be with their mother,” Nix recalls. “That afternoon we took food to the home, spent time with the family and prayed with them before we left. We checked on them daily when, four days later, she was informed that [her husband] had been killed in the collapse.”

The comfort and compassion Nix and his colleagues showed a fellow firefighter’s family reflects the spirit of the community. The Volunteer Center of Greensboro, N.C., has been chosen to lead in the 10th Anniversary 9/11 Day of Remembrance Observance along with New York City and others. The event will take place from Sept. 9 through 11.

“Not only will we honor those who gave their life that day but also the men and women of the United States military who have given their lives since 9/11,” Nix says. “America will always be great as long as we have men and women who are willing to choose others over themselves.”

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