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9/11/01: Volunteers spring into action

People walk away from the World Trade Center

People walk away from the World Trade Center site in Manhattan early on Sept. 11, 2001, after both towers were hit by terrorists who hijacked airliners. Credit: Reuters

New Hyde Park volunteer firefighter Scott Specht heard radio shock-jock Howard Stern say the World Trade Center had been blown up. He left his temp job in Nassau County and rushed to Manhattan.

Senior-center employee Edith Holmes stood watching dozens of shellshocked people walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to find refuge. She offered them water.

In East Atlantic Beach, city firefighter William Quick was relaxing at home when he got the word. He grabbed his gear and jumped into his car.

Three people, three stories, among thousands of soul-searing accounts after unimaginable terror rained on New York City and scores of firefighters, cops, medical workers, bus drivers and average citizens pitched in to help the injured and the shaken.

Specht, 21, was in New Hyde Park when he heard Stern tell his radio listeners about the explosion and relay the appeal that all firefighters were being asked to help. Once he got to the scene, he said, he fought car fires for about two hours in front of 7 World Trade Center.

"I didn't find anyone alive, but my co-workers found one man with broken legs. He was buried for four, five hours under the debris," said Specht, who was covered in white soot as he stood on a downtown street last night. "He's still alive and they think he's going to survive."

City bus drivers transported firefighters and rescue workers downtown, kicking up clouds of ash as they headed south on Church Street. Iron workers at a Columbus Circle construction site were hauled in to help sort through mountains of debris.

Ambulances from Long Island, Westchester County and other areas fringed the streets, as medical workers tended to the wounded. Ladder Co. 1 on Duane Street opened its doors and firefighters offered face masks, water and blankets to the injured and frightened.

From nearby buildings, people emerged carrying blankets, sheets and towels for the rescue effort.

Yong Lee, of Fresh Meadows, turned his Fulton Supply Hardware Store near the World Trade Center into a relief center. He tacked up a handwritten sign that read: "Free Phones to Call Family." He handed out respirators and breathing masks to those walking through the soot that blanketed the area.

Holmes, an employee at the Raices Times Plaza Senior Center in Brooklyn Heights, asked people who were walking over the Brooklyn Bridge if they wanted water or wanted to use the bathroom.

Firefighter Quick, after speeding into the city from East Atlantic Beach, parked his car near the burning World Trade Center and headed toward the calamity. Someone told him to go into the subway and help 30 to 60 people coming out of the station.

"They were hysterical. They were crying. Numerous people were bleeding," Quick said. "One fellow couldn't walk. I carried him to an EMT worker."

When the first tower collapsed, Quick said, "It sounded like an avalanche."

He found refuge behind a pillar in a building. "I just laid there. I laid down low and it was complete darkness for say 10 to 15 minutes," Quick said. "I couldn't breathe. I just hid in my coat."

After a while, Quick returned to the subway, but everyone appeared to have gotten out. He tried to put out car fires, but said it was fruitless.

Then the second blast rocked downtown. Quick ran into a clothing store and dove behind another building pillar.

"I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face," he said.

When the smoke lifted, he began to search for more victims through the piles of metal and other debris.

"No one in this whole country has seen anything like this," a shaken Quick said. "My heart goes out to everyone here."

CORRECTION: Scott Specht was a New Hyde Park volunteer firefighter on Sept. 11, 2001. A previous version of this story said Specht was a volunteer firefighter for a different area. 

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