Friday, September 9, 2011

Where Were You...?

The summer of 2001 was turning out to be a very successful one, both on a professional and personal level. My wife had qualified for for a teacher's scholarship for a trip to Israel and we decided if she was going to go, well, I had to find a way to do so, as well. We have family that live outside of the city of Haifa, as well as friends living in the greater Tel Aviv area, and this would be the perfect opportunity to see them all.  From a professional standpoint, we had just released the pilot episode of "America's Heroes: The Men & Women of Fire Rescue," which was being marketed internationally. 

With a few phone calls, I was in touch with the office for the American Magen David office in Illinois, which pulled some strings and booked me an interview with the Director General of Israel's EMS service, Magen David Adom, as well as permission to ride with several units from Jerusalem south to Ashkelon, on Israel western coast on the Mediterranean. Additionally, my dearly departed friend, Todd Miller, made arrangements for me to speak with a major producer on one of Israel's national networks.After spending about five days with our relatives in the northern part of the country, my wife and I went our separate ways, her to her teacher's program and me to my ride-alongs.

My meeting with the Israeli producer went very well. He loved the framework of our show and asked me if I could return to Israel after the High Holidays of 2001, to help him produce an Israeli version of our show. We set-up some tentative dates and programming ideas and left our meeting, both looking forward to the following Fall.

Upon my return to our office in August, I received a phone call from a good friend explaining that a leading talk show based in New York City, wanted to produce a segment for National Fire Prevention Month in October, that would feature young children and a quick fire education, yet fun, TV spot, as the host of the show was deeply enamored with the fire-rescue service both in New York City and nationally. I tried backing off, but he wouldn't hear of it, since he knew of my background in education, plus he was a very important supporter of our show and web site.

I wrote up a quick treatment for a segment with children 8-10, plus a national fire-prevention mascot, fire-equipment and several firefighters. I sent if off to my contact who was brokering the deal to see what would come of my ideas.We shot a few faxes and email back and forth, fine-tuning the segment, until we both felt it was as good as it could be. I sat back and waited to see what might happen.

On Friday, September 7, 2001, I received a phone call from the broker, ho advised me that the segment had been reviewed by several of the show's producers and they liked it a lot. They too, had a couple of ideas, but felt it was clear enough to meet the host's desires. They would be presenting to her at the following Tuesday's staff meeting at 9:00AM at the studio and would get back to me.

I was on "pins and needles" that weekend, because this would give both our company and our show a big push for the domestic, US television markets. But life rolled on, past the weekend, past Monday, then into Tuesday.

A close friend and I shared our office space in Ft. Lauderdale. He had seen many of the video submissions we had received from dozens of fire departments around the country and as we watched them together, I would teach him some of the signs that firefighters look for at an incident scene. One of those was the color of smoke. Dark, black smoke indicated strong fire and burning; colored smoke often indicated chemical or hazardous materials involvement, and grayish smoke was often a mixture of smoke and steam and was a sign that firefighters were putting water on whatever was burning.

On Tuesday morning, I was sitting at my desk going through my email, with my scanner running in the background. Suddenly, I heard a Ft. Lauderdale Fire Department unit mention that something had happened in Manhattan, a "10-75, All Hands" alarm. Turning to the Internet, I tried to get on to a great web site ( that broadcast the FDNY radio channels. But each time I tried to log in, up popped a message saying the site could not be accessed. And the chatter on the scanner had been kicked up a couple of notches as more details became available. 

I went into my editing room and rolled one of our 25-inch monitors out to the main office area, hooked up a jury-rigged antenna and tuned to the first station I could find. That's when we saw the beginning of the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States. As we watched, we saw, live, as the second plane hit the South Tower. We l,looked at each other, both realizing what was happening on our soil, not some unknown locale in the Middle East. My friend asked me how did I think the fire service would douse the fires burning in the two buildings. I told him, "They can't." Then, of course, we heard about the Pentagon and Shanksville.I 

We watched for a while, then I had to start answering phone calls from around the country. I was back in the editing room a few minutes later when he yelled out to me, "Steve, come here and look! They're getting water or foam or something on the flames, because the smoke is turning from black to gray!"

Riveted, I sat there watching the scenes unfold before us. I let the telephone ring and go to voicemail. We didn't utter a word to each other. We just sat there silently, letting the tears stream down our faces.And I knew right then and there that fate was not taking me to New York or to Israel. It would keep me in Ft. Lauderdale, doing what I could, in my own small way, to help our country come together in mourning and grief.

Shortly after the North Tower fell, I left the office and headed over to the local blood bank office in my home community, not only to donate my blood, but I felt certain that I was the first of hundreds who would arrive that day. As life would have it, I worked at that blood bank for three straight days, until it was announced that there was absolutely no hope for, or need of blood, for survivors.

Where were you?

Friday, September 2, 2011

And Her Name Was Irene...

As a Florida resident for the last 19 years and having experienced both Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Wilma, many of my co-residents considered ourselves quite lucky that we did not have to experience a full-on encounter with Hurricane Irene. However, what was lucky for us proved to be terribly tragic for those living from North Carolina up through Vermont.

Over 40 deaths have been reported to date. Damages are so high that Irene has been placed in the Top-10 most expensive natural disasters in recorded U.S. history. I grew up outside of Boston, MA and can remember preparing and then experiencing a couple of hurricanes, as well as numerous blizzards and nor'easters. However, nothing I experience in my first 22 years bore any resemblance to what Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene brought to the northeast.

The loss of life of just one person is one too many in any one's book, but one loss that I had heard of shortly after fire-rescue operations began in New Jersey, hit home harder today when I received the monthly alumni newsletter from Brandeis University, from which I graduated in 1974.

When I attended the school, it was before I had had the opportunity of volunteering in either the fire or rescue services. Living just a short 18 miles from Boston and another 15 miles from Worcester, 99% of eastern Massachusetts was, and continues to be services by career fire-rescue agencies. Simply put, there was no chance for me to volunteer until the mid 1970's. While attending Brandeis, I was able to land a campus job with campus security (unarmed, at that time). Our main task was to verify parking passes across the beautiful suburban campus and write infraction tickets. 

In 1983 Brandeis established Brandeis Emergency Medical Corp or BEMco. It has been staffed by over 670 student volunteers, all trained to state-standards in BLS or basic life support. Any number of its members have gone on to become physicians, physician-assistants, and paramedics. One of those volunteers was Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad member, Michael Kenwood. Michael, a quick-water rescue technician, lost his life after attempting to ascertain if a submerged vehicle, overtaken by flooding waters, was occupied.

Here is the community story about this hero, who he was and what he did:

So, though I may not have known him, we traveled on many of the same paths, attending classes on the same campus and offering our time and energies to help those in need. However, Michael paid the ultimate cost for his duty to his community. May his memory be for a blessing and may he rest in peace.

And Irene was her name...