Supporting the Call to Duty...
A Personal Account of Curtiss-Wright’s Rescue Assistance Operation at The World Trade Center and The Pentagon
By John D. McCarthy
It was September 11, 2001…
I was speaking with Ed Kulahli when Dick Otte relayed the news that an airplane just crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Like many that heard the initial report, I envisioned an accident involving a small Cessna-type aircraft where the pilot suffered a heart attack or something. We kept our ears bent to the radio in Dick’s office and spied the Internet to find out what was happening. Minutes later the news came that a second aircraft, a large commercial jet, plunged into the South Tower. My heart sank with the reality that this was not an accident, but rather a malicious attack. In our office there was disbelief and shock as the horror of the situation was beginning to unfold. The world was looking much different than a few minutes earlier. In all of this mayhem there was a unanimous feeling in our office… we can help.
The company I work for is Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems, Inc./Commercial Technologies Division located in Pine Brook, New Jersey. Our primary business is the manufacture of a portable rescue system called the Power Hawk® that derives its power from Curtiss-Wright aerospace gear technology and 12 volts DC. Because the Power Hawk Rescue System does not use hydraulic fluid or gasoline-powered hydraulic pumps, it is a unique spreading and cutting tool that is extremely effective for remote operations and in confined spaces. The Power Hawk is used primarily for auto extrication, however the tool’s versatility has given our customers the ability to perform jobs that traditional rescue tools cannot. Enhancing the versatility of the Power Hawk Rescue System is the ability to simultaneously operate accessory products, such as the Milwaukee cordless Sawzall® (reciprocating saw), RamFan blower, flood lights, a Warn winch, and more, using the portable 12 Volts DC battery pack.
With two towering infernos now draping thick black smoke across the New York City skyline, our focus was to get Power Hawks into the hands of the rescuers who were climbing the WTC towers to save those people who were trapped inside. As battery-powered equipment, the Power Hawk and Sawzall are very portable and can operate in smoked-filled environments, which was the situation at hand. We began making phone calls to our friends at FDNY Rescue Co. 1 to learn how we could help by delivering Curtiss-Wright rescue equipment to the scene.
The surreal barrage of bad news continued, The Pentagon was just hit by a commercial airliner. With confusion and tremendous anxiety, the question was now how many more attacks were coming?
When the devastating news was heard at 9:55 am that the South Tower had collapsed, I was on the telephone with Dennis Amodio, our Power Hawk independent sales representative for New York City, and also a retired firefighter from FDNY Rescue 1. Dennis was in Florida training firefighters at Miami-Dade International Airport on the use of their Power Hawk when the attack occurred. Silence was on the other end of the phone with the realization of the massive amount of human casualties that just occurred and the many friends that were just lost. Dennis felt certain that his best friend – Lt. Dennis Mojica of FDNY Rescue 1, was in the North Tower saving lives, which was still standing. Not only were the two close friends, Lt. Mojica was also a partner in Dennis Amodio’s business that represents Curtiss-Wright Rescue Systems and as such was an important member of our Power Hawk family. We hung up the telephone so that Dennis could make calls to FDNY’s head dispatcher to seek authorization to send Curtiss-Wright personnel with Power Hawks and Sawzalls to Rescue 1 Quarters on 43rd Street.
The world seemed to be turning upside down when shortly after 10:10 am the radio news station reported that another commercial jet crashed in rural Pennsylvania. A terrorist hijacking plot gone bad was speculated.
Bill Hickerson, Vice President and General Manager of Curtiss-Wright Commercial Technologies, assembled his staff and we began planning the logistics of vehicles, equipment and personnel that would later be sent to New York City and The Pentagon. Mark Treffinger, Vice President & General Manager of Curtiss-Wright Mechanical Systems in Shelby NC, offered his full support and resources, emphasizing his extreme concern for the safety of our people.
The unthinkable continued as word came at 10:29 am that the North Tower had collapsed. Several minutes later I was speaking with Dennis Amodio who was well aware of Rescue 1’s operating procedures and that Lt. Dennis Mojica would have been one of the first firefighters to climb the North Tower soon after the first plane struck. With quietness in his voice and a sense of intuition, Dennis uttered the words, "We just lost Mojica".
Charlie Miller rushed the Power Hawk Urban Search and Rescue Training Support trailer from Upstate New York to New Jersey and by that afternoon it was loaded with more than 20 Power Hawk Rescue Systems, Milwaukee Sawzalls and other equipment to support the rescue operation. Phone calls were made to our contacts at FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces from Virginia and California, The Port Authority of NY & NJ, the Pine Brook NJ Police Department, and the NJ Office of Emergency Management, trying to obtain authorization and destinations for delivering equipment to New York City and The Pentagon. The difficult part now was waiting.
While preparations were underway, Martin Benante, President and CEO of Curtiss-Wright Corporation, contacted Bill Hickerson and gave him the authority to deliver Power Hawk Rescue Systems to New York City and The Pentagon without concern for cost of product, but with highest concern for the safety of those involved in our operation.
On Wednesday morning, Dennis Amodio made the arrangements to have a Curtiss-Wright van with Power Hawk Rescue Systems sent to FDNY Rescue 1 Quarters. Brian Hendrickson and Russell Palmer arrived at Rescue 1 at 10 am and soon after began instructing rescue personnel and firefighters on the use of the Power Hawk. They continued to work on getting authorization to bring in the trailer containing the rest of the equipment. Lt. Dennis Mojica’s fiancée - Maria Barreto, was at Rescue 1 waiting, hoping and praying for the successful rescue of her Dennis and the other missing firefighters. Maria knew how much her fiancée believed in the Power Hawk and helped Brian and Russell with getting FDNY approval to send the Curtiss-Wright equipment to the rescue sites. Later in the day, tools began to be deployed to Ground Zero. At approximately 8 pm, authorization was given by FDNY and FEMA New York Task Force 1 to bring the Power Hawk trailer to Ground Zero.
Charlie Miller and I set out from our facility in Pine Brook NJ to New York City with the Power Hawk trailer in tow. There was a nervousness never felt before, but with the mission in the forefront of our minds… we were going to help save lives. We headed eastbound on Route 3 towards the Lincoln Tunnel and explained our way through three checkpoints, the last being a full vehicle search by Port Authority Police. It was roughly 9 pm when we entered the Lincoln Tunnel, a route I’ve traveled perhaps a thousand times before. Familiar was the yellow hue from the sodium-vapor lights reflecting off the exhaust-stained tile walls and ceiling, however, the crossing this time was very different. The conduit to one of the greatest cities in the world was completely deserted… except for us. It was an eerie feeling, like something out of a science fiction movie.
We navigated to West Street and headed south towards Chambers Street through many more checkpoints. With uneasiness in our stomachs we were suddenly surprised and uplifted to pass through crowds of people waving U.S. Flags, holding up signs "Thank You" and "God Bless You" and cheering us on shouting "We Love You Power Hawk". Supplies including food, water, gloves, dust masks, and more were offered and passed through my passenger-side window as we slowly drove by. Soon the haze and smoke billowing from Ground Zero could be seen, illuminated from portable lighting that resembled moon glow in an area that was otherwise dark. In a maze of heavy construction and emergency vehicles and NYPD roadblocks, we somehow found our way to Chambers Street where we met Brian and Russell. FEMA New York Task Force-1 immediately led the four of us to a site on Murray Street, only a parking lot away from where the World Trade Center once stood tall. We began setting up the Power Hawk trailer and tent as a support post to distribute Power Hawk Rescue Systems and Milwaukee equipment, recharge batteries, service and repair tools, and do whatever else we could. Our mission was to get Power Hawks and Sawzalls into the hands of the rescuers as soon as possible to help them save lives.
Thick gray dust and papers were everywhere… everywhere. Originating from the depths of the debris, the endless tan and gray smoke moving through the air was a constant reminder for us to keep our respirators pressed firmly against our noses and mouths. ConEdison workers and utility trucks scurried about, stretching miles of black heavy-insulated high-voltage lines that snaked through the streets and alleyways around us to bring electrical power into the area. Demolished fire trucks (some beyond recognition) were plucked from the collapsed areas and staged only a few feet away from our trailer. The plowing and scraping of the streets by the Sanitation workers would have seemed normal on a snowy winter’s night, but the deposit this time was gray not white. Surrounding tall buildings appeared steadfast and sturdy until you came around the corner and looked up to see huge voids in the brick, concrete and steel. On a couple of occasions people scattered from the wreckage area for fear that some of these buildings may themselves collapse. The destruction at Ground Zero was a dreamlike horror that I can best describe as indescribable. Faces of shock and disbelief were dressed in uniforms, turnout gear, hardhats, and blue jeans, all trying to make sense of what just happened. Also beyond words, however, in the midst of this bombed out "war zone" was seeing people coming together and helping each other - and the cause - like never before.
The night offered a lull in activity and perhaps the opportunity to sleep in our vehicles, however, my mind would not slow down to allow it. I could see Charlie, Brian and Russell roaming the area alone at different times during the night... I suspect they were having the same problem.
At daybreak on Thursday, the Power Hawk support post went into action. At first it was necessary to search for rescue teams around the WTC perimeter to distribute equipment. FEMA Task Force 1 from Massachusetts, working in the WTC Plaza area, requested two Power Hawk Rescue Systems with Sawzalls. Many of their team members were already Power Hawk customers and knew the operation of the tool. It was uplifting for us to hear the feedback from MA TF-1 on how well the Power Hawk performed and the significant impact it had on their operation. NYPD Emergency Services Unit, FDNY Technical Services, NY Regional Response Team, FEMA Task Force 1 from New York, and other FDNY Companies, were quickly added to the list of users. The positive comments from the rescue teams regarding the Power Hawk spread and soon other rescue teams began finding their way to the Power Hawk site to obtain equipment. In the days that followed, Missouri Task Force-1, Ohio Task Force-1, New Jersey Task Force-1, Pennsylvania Task Force-1, Florida Task Force-2, and California Task Force-8 used the Power Hawk as an integral part of their operation. The Curtiss-Wright mission was successfully underway.
At dusk on Thursday the un-muffled roar of engines and rotors echoed against the buildings as two heavily armed U.S. Army helicopters circled low overhead. At the same time, the Ground Zero area south of Murray Street was being evacuated. A rumor among the crowd gazing up was another terrorist threat, however, it was later learned the activity was in preparation for President Bush’s visit the next day. Brian, Russell and I left Ground Zero later that evening, being relieved by Frankie Borgesi and Michael Beasley. The next day Charlie Miller, who remained at the site, promised to forever remind me that while I was safely back in Pine Brook on Friday, his wife and friends saw him on National television shaking hands with The President of the United States of America.
Dennis Amodio arrived in New York City on Day 2 after driving 22 hours straight from Florida. It wasn’t long before he was on "the pile" working along side his firefighter brothers from FDNY Rescue 1 in search of their own fallen heroes. With Power Hawks and Sawzalls in hand, they cut their way through the debris, re-bar, and steel beams. It was Saturday evening (Day 5) when Dennis called me to let me know that he and his team found Lt. Dennis Mojica’s body earlier that morning.
At 3 am on Friday September 14, Dick Otte received a phone call from Dean Paderick from Virginia Task Force-2 who was dispatched to the Pentagon, requesting Power Hawks and Sawzalls. By noon on Friday, Frank Tartaglia was on his way to the Pentagon with a Curtiss-Wright van loaded with rescue equipment. Lonnie Toby, James Graham and Miles Butler converged on the Pentagon to support use of the Power Hawk by the rescue teams. By Saturday morning, Power Hawks and Sawzalls were in the hands of each of the Urban Search and Rescue teams at The Pentagon, including Virginia Task Force-1, Virginia Task Force-2, Maryland Task Force-1, Tennessee Task Force-1, and Alexandria/Arlington USAR. On Sunday, Greg Ryan arrived in Arlington to deliver additional equipment and to relieve Frank. Bill Hickerson visited the Pentagon on Monday to assess the Curtiss-Wright operation. By Tuesday all of the USAR teams at the Pentagon were using the Power Hawk as an integral part of their operation. Several of the rescue team members were already Power Hawk customers and were instructing new users on how to operate the tool. As a result, the rescue teams became so familiar and self-supporting of the Power Hawk at the Pentagon that all Curtiss-Wright support personnel were released from the scene on September 18.
Bill Hickerson and Dick Otte were handling logistics in Pine Brook. Volunteer relief and support personnel were scheduled which enabled the Curtiss-Wright posts to operate 24 hours a day. Charlie Miller, Brian Hendrickson, Frankie Borgesi, Mike Beasley, Harold Garner, Buster Dobbins, Craig Hiser, Carl Wendt, and Robert Cuozzo rotated tours at Ground Zero, some with stays as long as 5 days. On Saturday September 15, Bill Hickerson and I visited Rescue 1 Quarters and continued on to Ground Zero to the Power Hawk post to deliver more equipment and assess the scene. By Sunday September 23, the rescue teams using the Power Hawk at Ground Zero were self-sufficient and could be supported from our Pine Brook facility, only one hour away. That afternoon Charlie Miller and Craig Hiser hitched the Power Hawk trailer and headed north on West Street, leaving the smoke of Ground Zero behind, destination... home.
Approximately 30 Power Hawk Rescue Systems with other support rescue equipment were put into the hands of rescue workers when they were most needed. The feedback from the rescue teams was that our equipment was being used "all the time". They expressed how much they like the portability of the Power Hawk allowing them to perform in remote areas, in holes underneath debris, in Subway tunnels, and inside buildings – including The Pentagon. They worked in confined spaces without the health risk of carbon monoxide emissions associated with some of their other tools. One team at Ground Zero used the Power Hawk in adjacent apartment buildings to pop open doors as they checked for victims. Another team used it to cut grates in elevator shafts in order to search void areas. A team reported that they used the Power Hawk to pry open subway cars below grade and automobiles in the various parking lots and garages. We learned that the New York Bomb Squad used Power Hawk and Milwaukee equipment to open doors and car trunks during bomb scares. Several people went out of their way to stop by the Power Hawk trailer to thank Curtiss-Wright for our support of equipment and personnel…letting us know that it made a significant difference in their operation. Rescuers at The Pentagon let us know that the Power Hawk helped them save lives.
It is through the dedication, self-sacrifice and contributions of all individuals and companies involved that made the Curtiss-Wright rescue operation at WTC Ground Zero and The Pentagon a success. Included are those at the Curtiss-Wright Pine Brook and Shelby facilities who were behind the scenes readying vehicles, loading equipment, assembling new tools, answering and directing telephone calls, and expediting shortage hardware. These people are Ed Kulahli, Sal Baglieri, Frank Gencarelli, Ziggy Przybylo, Dosha Jackson, and Lisa Leal. Significant contribution to the mission was made by Milwaukee Electric Tool Company who provided a truckload full of powered hand tools that were distributed at WTC Ground Zero and The Pentagon. Curtiss-Wright Metal Improvement Company supplied masks and respirators. Curtiss-Wright Sprague Products stood ready to supply air pumps for refilling breathing apparatus. Several of our suppliers worked around the clock to complete shortage parts and, with all the airlines grounded, drove day and night to make deliveries that kept our production going.
In the face of such overwhelming tragedy, there are many emotions that run through our minds and hearts. With a career at Curtiss-Wright that spans more than 17 years now, I have never felt so proud to be part of an organization with such dedication, commitment, and generosity toward helping others. There is a sense of satisfaction and solace in knowing that we reached out and helped to support the call to duty. May God Bless America.
An alphabetical listing of names, titles and affiliations of the individuals that appear in the above article.
CWCT = Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems, Inc. / Commercial Technologies Division, Pine Brook, NJ
CWMS = Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems, Inc. / Mechanical Systems Division, Shelby, NC
CWTS = Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems, Inc. / Technical Services Division, Pine Brook, NJ
Dennis Amodio – President of Technical Rescue Services, Inc., Punta Gorda, FL. Power Hawk Independent Sales Representative for NYC, Dallas TX and Florida
Sal Baglieri – Assembly Technician - CWCT
Michael Beasley – Captain for Apex Fire Department, NC Affiliated with Emergency Apparatus, Inc.
Martin Benante – President and CEO, Curtiss-Wright Corporation, Lyndhurst, NJ
Frankie Borgesi – Sales Representative for Emergency Apparatus, Inc., Pittsboro, NC. Power Hawk dealer for North Carolina
Miles Butler – Director for Forsythe County Fire Department, GA. Power Hawk customer and affiliate of Safety Equipment Co.
Robert Cuozzo – Boonton Fire Department, NJ. Affiliate of JMB Training, Power Hawk Dealer for northern New Jersey
Buster Dobbins - Machinist - CWMS
Harold Garner – Manager of Production Control - CWMS
Frank Gencarelli – Assembly Technician - CWCT
James Graham – Sales Representative for Safety Equipment Company, Tampa, FL. Power Hawk dealer for U.S. Military
Brian Hendrickson – Int’l & U.S. Military Sales - CWCT
William Hickerson – V.P. & General Manager - CWCT
Craig Hiser – President of 10-33 Fire Equipment, Glasgow, KY. Power Hawk dealer for Kentucky
Dosha Jackson – Administrative Assistant - CWCT
Ed Kulahli – Production Supervisor - CWCT
Lisa Leal – Sr. Buyer - CWMS
John McCarthy – Manager of Sales & Distribution - CWCT
Charles Miller – Northeast U.S. Regional Sales - CWCT
Dick Otte – Director of Marketing - CWCT
Dean Paderick – President of Spec Rescue International, Virginia Beach, VA. Power Hawk dealer for southern Virginia and Connecticut
Russell Palmer – President of Palmer Enterprises, Mohawk, NY. Power Hawk dealer for portions of New York State
Ziggy Przybylo – Engineering Facility Aide - CWTS
Greg Ryan – Director of Program Management - CWTS
Frank Tartaglia – Director of Sales and Marketing for Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems, Inc., Office in Pine Brook, NJ
Lonnie Toby – Sales Representative for Safety Equipment Company, Tampa, FL. Power Hawk dealer for U.S. Military
Mark Treffinger – Vice President & General Manager - CWMS
Carl Wendt – Newark Fire Department Rescue 1, NJ. Affiliate of JMB Training, Power Hawk Dealer for northern New Jersey