The 9/11 Volunteers Who Didn't Quit: Recovery Crew Gave 40 After-Hours A Week For 9 Months
This story is part of the "The Impact of 9/12," series, which focuses on those who were inspired to give back after the tragedies of September 11, 2001.
It was a late October night in 2001 when Michael Bassano, New York volunteer police officer and EMT, was working with his 9/11 recovery team to clear away rubble at the site of the Twin Towers. Some did the actual digging and handled the rescue saws, others worked to outfit the team in safety gear. Another crew handled the light towers.
Together, the team made an important discovery: a hip bone.
Next, they unearthed a badge. And then, a gun.
"It was a brother," Bassano told the Huffington Post of the fallen police man the team found together.
Bassano's auxiliary police team quickly sprung into action to help the Emergency Rescue Unit find the rest of his remains.
The crew of volunteer police of the 7th Precinct on the Lower East Side of Manhattan worked tirelessly for nine months following 9/11. Morris Faitelewicz, vice president of the Auxiliary Police Supervisors Benevolent Association, acted as coordinator of the citywide crew that came regularly each week, comprising about 15 people. Faitelewicz, a Port Authority employee, would spend about 36 hours outside of his day job helping to chip away at the 9/11 wreckage each week.
At the site, the auxiliary police helped put together and maintain equipment such as air tanks, heat sensors, special cameras used to look between crevices, masks and gloves. When the emergency team would attend funerals -- which was often, according to Bassano -- the volunteer team was left in charge. Besides the heavy lifting, the team would also tour victims' families around the site and answer and field questions, working with groups ranging from search dog handlers to the FBI to customs agents.
For these volunteer police, whose duties mostly mirror that of paid police outside of using a weapon, assisting the Emergency Service Unit in the 9/11 recovery effort was one of the group's proudest moments, Bassano said.
"We would go around getting shovels and picks and lighting and anything we could. In our own small way, we were in the background, quietly and gently helping out."
Faitelewicz and some of his crew members responded right away after the planes hit and the smoke cleared on 9/11. They worked tirelessly, clearing wreckage for hours on end. But after a couple days, the volunteers were told to leave.
"The authorities told us, 'You're just the same as regular auxiliary police. You can't be there,'" Faitelewicz said, explaining there were safety issues and perhaps the NYPD feared union complaints.
But the volunteer crew stood their ground, determined to stay and help.
"We decided we had to fight," Faitelewicz said.
A volunteer policeman since 1974, Faitelewicz made his case to officials that his crew was one of the only auxiliary teams on site who had worked with the Emergency Service Unit before. The volunteers' typical role was to provide backup for the unit, arriving on accident scenes to administer first aid, CPR and other rescue assistance.
Officials were ultimately convinced. The Emergency Service Unit even wrote Faitelewicz's group a letter, officially requesting for their help at the site.
Faitelewicz said he felt it was a great victory for his fellow volunteer police that they were able to do their part.
"Even though it was a sad time, we were there when the city needed us and when the police department needed us," he said. "Plus, we had lost friends, family workers, coworkers. We were able to do something for them all."
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