Story by Hannah Ball; video by Tim Jagielo
Holly — Eighteen years have passed since Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorist organization al-Qaeda flew two planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks.
While the initial shockwaves were felt the hardest on site, the actions of that day transcend time and distance.
Holly lacrosse coach Jay Reynolds traveled to New York City to aid in recovery work shortly before midnight on Sept. 11, just hours after the attack. At the time, Reynolds was a public safety officer with the Bloomfield Hills Public Safety Department (BHPSD) and a volunteer firefighter with the Troy Fire Department.
“It’s kind of like one of those moments, I think, like your parents remember when Kennedy was assassinated. It’s one of those moments that’s etched and burned into your mind,” he said.
Reynolds learned about the attack like most Americans — from the news on TV. He was told their tactical special response unit was needed. For four days in 12-hour shifts, his team was bused to Ground Zero.
“The very first time we arrived there, we were anxious, we were nervous but yet there was this adrenaline flow that went through you. We were ready to get to work,” he said. “As soon as we got closer and closer, I remember my feelings watching it from afar, watching the cloud that everyone got to see on TV,” he said. “When you were there, you were like, ‘that’s just burning.’ As a fireman, you want to be able to solve that problem.”
Reynolds was on a team that did search and rescue, search and recovery, and surveying for the Army Board of Engineers. They also aided the military and volunteers from a nursing staff.
He was on one of many “bucket brigades.”
“We had to sort through things bit by bit and we did not have access to the heavy equipment due to the rubble and piles that we worked on top of,” he said.
A line of firefighters would pass five-gallon buckets full of rubble to clear the area.
“When you were there, you saw nothing bigger than a shoe … everything was the size of today’s iPhone. Iron, rubble, concrete,” he said. “It was either permanently affixed to the ground and burned into the ground, and/or we removed it with a five-gallon bucket.”
He describes the experience as “surreal.”
“At age 24, being there, you are hopeful you can be able to provide whatever was necessary at the time. There’s periods where you were scared. There were periods when you were really proud. Adrenaline-filled would probably be one of the words,” he said, adding that the 12-hour shifts felt like five-minute days.
Reynolds owns an album with dozens of on-the-ground photos. Some are panoramas, showing the destruction after the attacks, and some are of Reynolds and other responders, sitting on the buses, riding into the city.
The photos themselves are a story. During a search and rescue mission beneath World Center One, responders discovered a store which contained disposable cameras. They used these Kodak instant cameras to take these shots.
“We didn’t have cell phones to take pictures back then,” he said. “The book is just a firsthand look of what firefighters saw walking through the streets everyday, where they were, walking on top of the piles.”
Read the rest of Reynolds’ story and watch the video online at myfenton.com.