Tracy Stelman — worked at Ground Zero

I will try to keep this as brief as possible.

I am a US federal govenrment employee and as part of my job as a forester, is to provide logisical support during emergencies. Up to October 18th of this year I have participated in approximately 30 major wildfire incidents in my 15 year career with the US Forest Service. This year I would add a new experience to my career.

On Sept 10, 2001 I flew to Orlando, FL in anticipation of traveling up to Norfolk Virginia with my sisters and mother to see my brother's retirement for the navy. On the morning of Sept 11th while watching Katie Curic interview Harry Belefonte about his new CD, the interview was completed and switched immediately to the World Trade Towers (WTC). I watched in absolute unbelief the fire caused by the first attack. All I could think, "How could small plane run into the World Trade Tower!!?" No clue as to how big at all really was. From there the reports came in on the Pentagon attack and then second attack on the WTC. At this point all I could wonder about was " What's next?" For the next several hours I was glued to the TV along with my Mother, sister, and brother-in-law. By 3:00 in the afternoon I was worn out from watching TV. I had to turn it off. As it turned out my brother did retire but it was not on the USS Nimitz as originally scheduled but at his church which was wonderful in itself. I ended up driving back to California. I would have given my eye teeth to be at the WTC. I'm like this everytime there's a fire. It's like a moth to the flame thing.

My qualifications in logistical support for fire also allow me to work on other types in incidents as well such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. Up until this year I had not had an opportunity work any other type of incident except wildfires. That's what we do best in the Forest Service. On October 17th, I returned from a day in the field to have my coworker tell me about an assignment to New York City that he was not available to take. It was for a Receiving/Distribution Manager. This is part of the Supply Unit under the Incident Command System (ICS). This is part of an emergency organizational system designed to meet the needs of an emergency. My role as a Receiving/Distribution is just a very small part of this organization. On Ocotber 18th I traveled to New York City from Pinecrest, California. I reported to my check-in area on the morning of October 19th ( the 44th floor of the Times Square Hilton on 42nd Street) and proceeded to get my duty assignment to Ground Zero at one of the three supply caches located in Ground Zero. I was not surprised because I have spent 15 years being prepared for anything. This assignment was not an exception given its location in New York City. Flexibility is key to this type of job. You work wherever our caches are set up and you deal with whatever circumstances you face. The supply cache that I was assigned to was located in the first floor of the One World Finance Center. This building was located across the street from what was the South Tower or WTC2. The supply caches consisted of respirators of various kinds as well as gloves, flashlights, winter clothing, rain gear, batteries, food snacks, and other assorted medicines, bandages, and cough drops. Our task was keep the caches stocked, and distribute items to appropriate personnel as directed by the Supply Unit Leader and Logistics Chief. We kept inventories current, returned items that were not needed, placed orders to replenish existing stock, and notifed our superiors of changes to currents needs of the Police and Firefighters working on "The Pile". It was an incredible experience. I met so many people and met some old friends and co-workers from past fire assignments. I was deeply touched by the "Teddy Bear Wall", the memorial to the Police and Firefighters who lost their lives, and the piles of letters that waited every morning on the tables in the Marriot Hotel where the Red Cross fed all of us everyday, 24 hours a day from people all over the US. Some mornings I could only get through 2 or 3 letters before the emotions overran me. There were times when I just had to let the tears fall for a loss that I can never comprehend.

I did conduct a little therapy of my own. One day while going though some things that the NY Police Supply Quartermaster had brought in, there were 2 packages that I remember distinctly. One was from a Veteren, along with some gloves, tape, and bandanas, he sent his war medals. In the other package was a box with 3 t-shirts and on those t-shirts was a picture of a first grade class. We sent the medals back to the gentleman with a think you note. The first grade class I was especially touched. I was so touched that I picked up my cell phone and called that first-grade class in DeKald Junction, NY. I spoke to the teacher and told her who I was and that I was calling from Ground Zero. I think she was in shock. I wanted her to know that we got their t-shirts and that they were greatly appreciated. Their gift mattered. Their thoughts mattered, Their prayers mattered. I wanted her to tell the children that I had the t-shirt hanging up in our supply cache. She told she wished she had a speaker phone because she was standing right in front of the class as we spoke. This was my therapy. I needed to reach out to some of those people who spend their time sending good thoughts and prayers our way. It mattered to the Police Officers, Firefighters, and the other emergency personnel I served. I know, because I felt it too.

I spent 18 days at Ground Zero. The memories will be etched in my mind forever. The "teddy bear" will never mean the same. The resilency of the human spirit is absolutely and totally awesome. I am so honored to be a part of it. It is our compassion for each other that will see us though the hard times.

There is so much I want to tell you but I wanted to share my most treasured memory. I would be happy to share more if you would like. I apologize for any misspellings or grammatical errors.


Tracy Stelman