Earlier this week, we published an interview with Brenda Berkman, a New York City Firefighter who worked at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Today, on the tenth anniversary of that day, we're proud to present profiles of two other women who were among the first responders on the scene at Ground Zero, New York City police officer Carol Paukner and New York City firefighter Regina Wilson, along with a video of Berkman talking about her career and her 9/11 experience. All three originally appeared on the new site Women You Should Know, whose self-described mission is "to shine a spotlight on women who are making things happen in their world."
Given the timing of Women You Should Know's launch earlier this week, the site's founders wrote, they knew they wanted to focus on the female emergency service personnel who reported for duty at Ground Zero on 9/11. There was only one problem:
"We didn’t know, for sure, if there were any women first responders. Yes, we agree, that it might seem like an odd question to ask, 'Were there even any women there?' But, as none of us could recall seeing any news coverage or pictures of women firefighters, police officers, EMTs, FBI agents, etc. connected to 9/11, we started doing some research ... women seemed to have gone missing from almost every account we read or viewed about this very dark part of our country’s history."
These three women were there at Ground Zero on 9/11 and for days and in some cases weeks after, sustaining physical and psychological injuries as they worked to rescue others trapped in the rubble, search for remains, and secure the area. Today, we honor them.
For almost 10 years, NYPD Police Officer Carol Paukner worked around and inside the World Trade Center patrolling the NYC subway lines that were below the buildings on the concourse level. She knew the area well and a lot the people who worked there. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Carol and her partner, Tracy Donahoo, a rookie at the time, were assigned to the Broadway/Nassau station one block from the World Trade Center when Carol received a call about "unknown conditions" at the Twin Towers. They came up out of the subway and saw the street covered with debris. A woman pointed up and that was when they saw the back end of a plane sticking out of the North Tower with the nose buried in the building. Carol, the second officer to respond on 9/11, got on her radio and confirmed, "A plane has hit the World Trade Center." In the chaos that ensued, Carol and Tracy ran to the South Tower and immediately started to evacuate people to safety, but they eventually got separated from one another. There were objects flying through the air, people desperately jumping to their deaths from the North Tower and panic on the ground. Carol recalls encountering an FBI agent who warned her and the other first responders who were close by, "There are more planes coming. We're under attack. You're going to die if you stay here." Carol's response, like the response of so many other women and men that day, was simple, yet resolute, "We're not leaving." Carol Paukner's poignant words are the title of a new book written by Benjamin J. Luft, M.D., the Edmund D. Pellegrino Professor of Medicine at SUNY Stony Brook and founder of the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. 'We're Not Leaving' is a compilation of powerful first-person narratives told from the vantage point of World Trade Center disaster workers - police officers, firefighters, construction workers, and other volunteers at the site - ordinary people who responded to disaster and devastation in extraordinary ways. The deeply personal stories, which include Carol Paukner's firsthand account, focus on personal strength and renewal in the ten years since September 11, 2001. Carol Paukner did not leave on 9/11. Her priority was saving the lives of others. She continued to help evacuate as many people as she could even after she, herself, sustained a number of serious injuries - a torn rotator cuff and knee, her neck and foot were injured and her corneas were burned (she later developed a lung infection). While everyone she knew who worked in that area was killed, Carol miraculously survived. Despite being thrown through a glass window from the force of a falling metal object and later that morning, being propelled through an exit door of the South Tower and subsequently buried under rubble, Carol went right back to work in the days following 9/11. She retired from the NYPD a few years later due to the injuries she sustained in her rescue efforts. Today, Carol still suffers multiple 9/11 related health issues, but has an incredibly inspiring perspective on life. We encourage you to read her story of bravery, self-sacrifice and healing in Dr. Luft's We're Not Leaving. Carol Paukner and Dr. Luft will be profiled as part of an hour long special devoted to 9/11 on "60 Minutes" this Sunday, September 11 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network.
Meet Regina Wilson. Up until her late twenties, Regina's professional story was one that a lot of women can relate to. She was working in a corporate job, in real estate specifically, just going through the motions. Not only did she find her work unfulfilling, it made her pretty miserable. She knew she wanted more for her life. So, rather than stay the course of complacency like so many people do, Regina decided to take a big risk by making a major career move. She tossed aside her business suits and set out to become a firefighter in the biggest and most elite fire department in the world, the Fire Department of New York. It was a move that would dramatically change the course of her life in so many different ways. On September 11, 2001, Regina, the then 32 year old with only 3 years on the job with the FDNY, was called to the most inconceivable emergency of her new career. She, among countless others, was a 9/11 first responder, assisting in the search, rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site. Her firehouse -- Engine 219 in Park Slope, Brooklyn -- lost 7 members that day. Compounding her loss is the knowledge that on that morning, prior to the first plane hitting the North Tower, a fellow firefighter offered to trade assignments with her. He died later that day. Today, Regina Wilson has been a member of the FDNY for twelve years. She is 1 of only 29 women in a workforce of over 10,000 firefighters and fire officers. She does what most women and men wouldn't want to do, professionally or voluntarily... she puts her own life on the line to keep other people safe. But more importantly for Regina, being a firefighter is a job she loves to do, it's work that fulfills her and the fire department is an organization that she is very proud to represent. Regina's list of accolades and accomplishments as an FDNY firefighter is a long one. Among her regular work duties, Regina is also an Equal Employment Opportunity instructor, President of the United Women Firefighters Organization and a member of the FDNY Incident Management Team. Regina has also been a member of the FDNY's ceremonial unit since 2004 and uses her gift of voice to sing at major events, including those for 9/11 families. She has been honored with many other singing opportunities including sporting events with the New York Mets, Yankees and Rangers, the New Jersey Nets and the WNBA. She has also had the privilege to sing for President George W. Bush and Prince Harry of Great Britain. This month, in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Regina, along with her friend and colleague FDNY firefighter and ceremonial singer Frank Pizarro, will be showcasing their collective vocal and musical talents on their first tribute album, "Beyond The Call," which will raise funds for several service organizations. In the works since February 2010, "Beyond The Call" is the debut album for Regina and Frank's music company, Beyond the Call Productions. Together they created the company to honor and raise funds for the brave women and men who serve and have served the country as first responders and in various other capacities. Beyond The Call also features a third FDNY ceremonial singer, firefighter Billy Arce. The album boasts some additional star power with former New York Yankees player-turned-musician, Bernie Williams, who came on board to record Hallelujah, one of the album's ten tracks. Other songs include "You Raise Me Up," "Letters From War" and "We've Got to Live Together," an original song co-written exclusively for "Beyond the Call" by V. Jeffrey Smith and Peter Lord of legendary R&B/soul group, The Family Stand. The Beyond The Call CD is available for purchase for $15.00 now. Proceeds from the album's sales will be donated to the following service organizations: Hope For The Warriors Foundation, New York Police & Fire Widows' & Children's Benefit Fund and FDNY Foundation.
Captain Berkman retired from the New York City Fire Department in 2006 after 25 years of service, which included her critical role as a first responder to the World Trade Center disaster site on September 11, 2001 and in the many months following. She began her career in the fire service after winning the federal sex discrimination lawsuit she initiated that resulted in the hiring of New York City's first women firefighters. The documentary "Taking the Heat," which chronicles Brenda's struggle to integrate women into the FDNY, aired on PBS in 2006. She has also been profiled in several books and numerous articles. In 1996-97, Captain Berkman served as a White House Fellow, the first professional firefighter to be awarded this prestigious leadership development fellowship in the history of the program. She has also led both local and national women firefighters' organizations. Today, Brenda is a printmaker, specializing in stone lithography. She started studying printmaking at the Art Students League in New York City two years after retiring from the FDNY. In 2011, Brenda decided, for the first time, to deal with her 9/11 experience in her art. She drew and created the stone lithograph print "2001″, a self-portrait depicting a bent over figure, covering her head and moving away as if under attack from above. Most recently, Brenda put together The 9/11 Decade, a special collaborative art project featuring a diverse group of fourteen artists from different backgrounds, generations and perspectives. Each artist contributed by creating their personal responses to the events of September 11, 2001 in the form of a monoprint (unique single works based on the same matrix image). Each of the 21 monoprints featured in The 9/11 Decade project is based on Brenda's stone lithograph print "2001″. Of the 21, Brenda created 9, which depict the ten year progression of her 9/11 experience - as a World Trade Center first responder, as a search, rescue and recovery worker at Ground Zero for nearly 10 months, all the way through where she is today. The 11 monoprints contributed by the other thirteen artists (two worked in pairs) speak to their individual 9/11 experiences, memories and reflections. By showcasing her 9 monoprints alongside their 11, the exhibit's construction, in and of itself, is a symbolic reference to that transformative day. Brenda's hope is that this project honors the people lost that day and the many workers and volunteers who helped at the Trade Center. She and the other artists also hope the project provokes critical thinking about our country's actions in the last ten years and provides healing and a way forward for both the artists and the viewers. The 9-11 Decade exhibit is currently on display in New York City at Westbeth Gallery through September 17, 2011.