Washington, D.C.—Unionized federal employees, who were some of the first to risk their lives for the victims of September 11th, are looking back a year later to share their first-hand experiences from the disastrous front lines of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Criticized by the Bush Administration as a threat to national security, federal workers speak out as a testament to the need of a secure workforce for a secure homeland. As the debate heats up on Capitol Hill, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) calls on the U.S. Senate to vote for a new Department of Homeland Security that will preserve the rights of federal workers as it protects America’s safety.
“Thousands of federal employees from across the country responded to the September 11th crisis at a moment’s notice and deployed without question,” said Bobby Harnage Sr., National President of AFGE. “Union members continued working around the clock, seven days a week for months after the attacks and did not fail to demonstrate patriotism, total flexibility and humanitarianism to serve their fellow Americans during this national crisis. The President’s plan to create a Department of Homeland Security without a secure workforce won’t make America more safe if it undermines the rights of workers whose job it is to protect our country everyday.”
The following government workers are available for interview:
Michael Brescio, On-Scene Coordinator – EPA Environmental Response Team, Edison, NJ, coordinated EPA’s involvement in the joint emergency response efforts of EPA, FEMA, the NY Fire Department and National Guard. Brescio spent the first 48 hours after the collapse working 12-hour shifts to get personal protective equipment, particularly respirators, into the hands of rescue personnel working in Ground Zero’s smoking rubble. He was then sent by EPA to Ground Zero where he worked 16-18 hour days, 7 days a week, for two months coordinating the “super vacuuming” effort in the entire Lower Manhattan region.
“I’ve been asked by friends what it was like during those two months of ‘vacuuming New York City,’” Brescio said. “It was grueling. But above all else, I’ll tell you what I tell them. We just had to keep working, we just had to do what was needed to be done to protect everyone affected by the events of September 11th.”
Kevin Connor, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)/Paramedic- DC Fire and EMS Department, was one of the first Paramedics on the scene at the Pentagon facing scores of severely burned victims. He assisted with triage, assessing the extent of the burns and preparing the most critical for evacuation by helicopter.
“I honestly can’t remember how many people I treated that day,” Connor said. “The events are a blur, doing what needed to be done to help the victims. When we got word of a second plane heading in the direction of the Pentagon, for the first time I felt my own personal safety was in doubt. I called my wife, asking her to get the kids from school and tell them I loved them. I remained at the Pentagon until it became painfully clear that there would be no more survivors.”
“It’s unbelievable to me that anyone, especially Congress, would consider my union membership an obstacle to responding to any type of emergency. Paramedics like myself are proud to be union members and equally proud of the job that we do on the absolute front line in any emergency, whether it’s a local accident or national disaster. The two don’t contradict each other. We’ll be there the next time the call goes out. You can count on it.”
Denise Dukes, Management Analyst – Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters, Washington, D.C., went into emergency mode within the hour after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. On the first day of the crisis, Ms. Dukes, like so many of her co-workers, worked a 24-hour shift in Washington. Her job was to ensure that emergency resources – from rescue personnel to food, clothing and water – were reaching the disaster site. Dukes, the mother of two children, worked 12-hour shifts in Washington for two weeks, then left for New York to continue working 12-hour shifts for another four weeks.
“It was taxing, physically and emotionally, but there was a job to do and doing it right would prevent the loss of any further lives,” said Dukes. “I believe that government workers are the heart and soul of the federal government. We were proud and eager to serve our fellow Americans, and we would never allow anything to stand in the way of that mission. Union members are not an obstacle to homeland security, we ARE homeland security.”
Daniel Abrams, Claims Representative – Social Security Administration, East Bronx District Office, spent one day at the Pier, a victim’s center set up for those affected by September 11th, and four days making calls to survivors and processing social security claims.
“The thing that struck me was the extent to which many of the dead had not yet really gotten their lives started,” Abrams said. “ I don’t know exactly how many calls I made to surviving families to find that their child had not yet married and had no children yet. I remember taking claims from the widows of firefighters and the widows of wait staff at Windows On the World.”
Editors/News Directors Note: - Please call 703/276-2772 x14 to arrange interviews.