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The Forgotten Casualties

September 01, 2006  |  by Shelly Feuer Domash

Major Surgeries

A  few months later, DeMorato had surgery to reconstruct his knee.

But the knee was just the most visible of his 9/11 injuries. Although he had a complete physical exam only a few months prior to 9/11 and was then pronounced in top physical condition, after the attack DeMorato began to suffer from lung, stomach, and heart problems.

Eighteen inches of his colon was removed, and he was diagnosed with scarring on the bottom of his lungs and valve problems in his heart. DeMorato was 36 years old on 9/11. In the years since, he’s had five major surgeries.

And the physical injuries were just the beginning of the wounds DeMorato suffered on 9/11. The atrocities of that day have also left emotional scars.

DeMorato has dreams where he sees the faces of the people he helped as a paramedic. But the most haunting dream, the one that recurs the most, is one where he is standing at the top of a well that is filled with dead bodies. The well is covered, but the victims’ limbs are protruding out. A group of people from the Trade Center buildings are walking toward him, asking him for help, but he can do nothing. He is helpless.

DeMorato says the department’s bureaucracy has been less than sympathetic to his condition. He’s on disability, but the NYPD makes him jump through a lot of hoops, and they still haven’t given him his retirement ID.

He’s also not very impressed with the agency’s approach to his physical and emotional problems. They tell him that in time it will pass. “I’m still waiting for it to pass…. I’m still waiting,” he says.

Inspector Larry Fields

The Port Authority Police suffered more casualties and more devastation from 9/11 than any other law enforcement agency. They were headquartered in the Twin Towers, they knew the people who worked there, and they spent what seemed like endless shifts going through the rubble after the attack. More than two percent of the 1,400-sworn force was killed.

Inspector Larry Fields was at the bus terminal in Manhattan when a fellow officer was talking to personnel at the Port Authority PD’s headquarters at the Trade Center. Suddenly the person at the other end yelled “earthquake!” and the phone went dead.

Fields and the other officer quickly commandeered a bus, told the riders to get off, and asked the bus driver to take them to the World Trade Center. In the short time it took to go down 9th Avenue, they were amazed to see that New Yorkers had already responded. Civilians were stopping traffic on the side streets so the emergency vehicles could get downtown.

At the towers, Fields took command of a seven-officer team. He was leading his team under the North Bridge when he ordered them to stop. He had looked up and caught a glimpse of something coming down at them. As it got closer, he realized what it was.

“It was a person who had jumped from the tower and was basically free falling. He landed pretty close to us and just disintegrated,” Fields says.

The Mezzanine

Once inside the building, Fields’ priority was getting people out.

Fields found himself on the mezzanine level in exactly the same locations where he had been after the 1993 bombing. While he was getting the people out, he began to think that this time it was safer. After all, the building had lights and was not filled with smoke this time.

Then he heard a loud explosion and someone yelled, “It’s a third plane!”

Fields wasn’t sure what it was. “In my mind it did sound like a plane was coming into the building,” he says.

But it wasn’t a plane. The explosion sound was from the failure of the building’s structure. The walls began to crack and the huge chandeliers shook. Fields’ team began to run.

“When I looked back I saw a great cloud blast through the windows,” Fields remembers. “The blast was so strong that when I dove to hit the ground I didn’t hit it, I just surfed. That is when I said some quick prayers and thought I was going to die. The blast literally just lifted us up and blew us away.”

After it was over, there was an eerie silence and total darkness.

“I was trying to breathe. I had to pull my shirt over my head because I couldn’t breathe. I was gagging for breath. It became so thick I had to stick my fingers in my nose and mouth to clear it out. There was a point where I actually thought I was going to die,” Fields says.

Fields’ survival instinct is strong, and it was not his time.
He yelled for his fellow officer and, as they kept yelling to each other in the darkness, he reached out and touched his arm. “He had short sleeves on and hairy arms and that is how I knew it was him. I could touch his arm but I couldn’t see him,” Fields says.

They then led the survivors as they struggled in the total darkness to find their way out to the light. They were among the lucky ones.

When they were about a block away, Tower One collapsed.

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