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Medical triage


That is not to say that the terrorist attack didn’t tax the hospital and healthcare system’s resources. The NYU Downtown Hospital, a few blocks from WTC, suffered power failures on September 11, as did others. And even the city’s Department of Health, close to the disaster site, was turned into a triage area for the hordes of people suffering from smoke inhalation, minor cuts and bruises and respiratory ills. 

Photo: Paul Olivier

At the Pentagon, too, Army nurses and medics needed all the help they could get and even used civilians. For example, Lt. Col. Patty Horoho, assistant deputy, personnel and health management policy office of the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and Reserve affairs, at the Pentagon, sped to the area of the crash site and was successful in being one of the first healthcare providers to respond, quickly setting up a safe area to triage and treat patients. She gave an interview to the Office of the Army Surgeon General regarding Sept. 11, 2001 published a year later. (26)

“Nobody panicked. Nobody screamed. Nobody ran. It was very, very orderly.”

Having heard the boom when the plane hit, and the building shake, Lt. Horoho evacuated with others. “Nobody panicked. Nobody screamed. Nobody ran. It was very, very orderly,” she related. “I knew right where the crash site was that there were going to be victims, and I knew that's where I needed to be.” She went to the front of the building to take care of patients, and recruited civilians on hand in helping her with triage.”

“Those that were physically able would help carry those out. I mean it was wonderful how quickly people pitched in and just started working.” Suddenly she was provided with an added aid bag. “An aid bag showed up, and I found out later, that a young, off-duty medic ran two miles from his house to the scene to help and to bring that bag. His actions truly saved lives.

Horoho described the response of medical people as “tremendous,” telling how physicians from throughout the area converged on the site. “They saw the smoke and the explosion near the attack and drove as far as they could, parked the car and then ran all of the way until they got there to offer their support. So the stories were absolutely amazing,” Horoho said. “You had an outpouring of people assisting in every way they could.

In New York, that first day, however, the WTC disaster would overwhelm the public agency but not in ways that they traditionally do—by putting demands on hospitals, medical workers, hospital bed capacity and the like. In fact, doctors clamored to the site to try to help, only to discover that there weren’t enough victims to help.

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints &

Photographs Division; Don Halasy

Far more important, says Burger, would be everything to do with environmental health—from the smoke and dust affecting air quality to the potential problems of rodents and rotting food in the neighborhoods affected the buildings’ collapse.

“The biggest vacuum was getting protection for the rescuers,” remembers Burger. “Because many of the rescuers weren’t wearing much of anything.”