Evan Greenwald will never forget his first day of work at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J.
Greenwald’s first shift as a hospital emergency medical technician occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
“Being that it was my first day at a new job, I was going in a little early,” said Greenwald, who now works as a civilian police services officer with the city of Peoria. “I had heard on the radio that a small plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers, but I didn’t really think anything of it, at that point.”
As Greenwald continued his commute, his car climbed the summit of a hill that offered a glimpse of the New York City skyline.
“My view was probably about 15 to 20 miles away from the World Trade Center when I reached the top of the summit, and I saw a flash,” he recalled. “At first, I thought it was just the reflection of the sun glancing off buildings, and then I realized it was the second plane.”
Greenwald also realized it was more than just an accident as he hurried to the hospital.
When he arrived at work, hospital officials had begun to mobilize their emergency forces, readying them to move into New York City for assistance.
Greenwald joined his EMT partner and they were assigned to Liberty State Park, then later, Ellis Island.
“The biggest challenge was the lack of communication,” said the 42-year-old Greenwald. “It seems weird to say this, but some of the most reliable information we got that day was listening to Howard Stern on the radio.”
Greenwald also had no luck trying to use his cellphone.
“I was shifting around like a contortionist in our vehicle as I tried to get cellphone service,” he said. “Everything was out.”
As Greenwald and other first responders set up command posts, they began a never-ending waiting game.
“We didn’t know what to expect, so we tried to prepare for everything,” he said.
A trickle of passengers eventually arrived in commuter ferries and Greenwald immediately went to work.
“They looked like Pigpen from Charlie Brown,” Greenwald said of the passengers. “We treated a lot of eye irritations and a lot of stress — people were wigged out.”
The big rush of patients never arrived at Ellis Island, so Greenwald and his partners spent most of the day trying to find out what was going on in Manhattan.
“At one point, we were told that half the NYPD was gone,” said Greenwald, who previously worked as an EMT in New York City.
Greenwald knew many of the emergency responders in New York City and had relatives who worked in the World Trade Center. Fortunately, he didn’t have any friends or relatives die in the terrorist attacks.
However, the Peoria resident did not come away unscathed.
Soon after the attacks, he had to be hospitalized with a severe case of asthma and he still suffers from minor lung congestion. For several years after 9/11, he also suffered nightmares and went out of his way to avoid Ground Zero.
“The big thing for me was the feeling that I hadn’t done enough to help,” he said.
Time has eased the physical and psychological strains and given Greenwald perspective on the events.
“I’ve always been the type of person who believed that stuff happens — sometimes it’s big stuff,” he said. “You help who you can and then you start cleaning up.
“I was very lucky personally and didn’t see what many of my friends saw that day. My family and the people close to me came through OK.”
One of the oddest things about that day was I never heard the sky so quiet.”
“Growing up in New York, you get used to a lot of noise and see a lot of airplanes in the sky.
“I didn’t know how many people I would be treating that day, so I grabbed as many rubber gloves as I could.
“I had so many stuffed into my uniform that it looked like I had breasts.”