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Medic Describes 9/11 Response

Excerpts from an interview with Sgt. Matthew Rosenberg regarding Sept. 11, 2001. Sgt. Rosenberg is an Army medic assigned to the DiLorenzo TRICARE Health Clinic, the Pentagon. He also serves as the noncommissioned officer in charge of mass casualty events. He was awarded the Soldiers Medal for his actions on Sept. 11.

The day started out pretty much like any other day. We were doing . minor procedures that day, when we found out that the World Trade Center had been hit. . Somebody came in and said, "The World Trade Center got hit," and we`re like, "Yeah, we know. It`s horrible." They`re like, "No, it got hit again." And that`s when we realized it was a terrorist thing.

I went into a room—pretty much the procedure was almost already over—and just started evacuating people. At the time, we didn`t know really what was going on. We thought it was a fire drill. [A Navy commander came into the Pentagon clinic], and said, "Hey, I`ve got a patient that`s in the courtyard and he needs help."

I got about 20 feet into the center courtyard, and that`s when I saw the smoke rising out of the side of the building. Then I started seeing patients coming out, and I picked up my radio: "This is Sergeant Rosenberg. You need to initiate the MASCAL [mass casualty] plan now. We have multiple patients in the center courtyard, and I need medical assets in the center courtyard immediately."

My first patient had second-degree burns to most of his body. His hair was smoldering. . He came out with his arms up, just screaming. ... You could see the surface blood on the outside of his skin. Other people were coming out with contusions, smoke inhalation, lacerations.

People were helping. People were comforting those who had, you know, smoke inhalation. At the time we didn`t have any oxygen or anything else, so the best thing you could do was tell people to take slow, deep breaths to help clear their lungs, and help hold it in. The best thing you can do is help support them while they do it.

I remember looking up and seeing [two coworkers] coming into the center courtyard and they both had packs on their back. . I was [thinking], "All right, there are medical supplies here and now we can start to do something." And by then, doctors were starting to come in, you know, different people were starting to filter in, and the patients were coming out. So we would run up and grab them. I would grab one and start working on them, and by the time I got like 3 feet away, one of the other medics was there to help me carry people and move them back over.

Originally there were calls for people on the inside. It was, "Hey, we need medics in here." And I wanted to go, but [an Army doctor] said, "No, you`re not going anywhere. I need you out here with me."

Then [the Air Force surgeon general] came out, and he grabbed me by the arm and said, "I need you in here."

I looked at [the Army doctor] and said, "Ma`am, can I go?" And she looked around, and she just looked at me . and said, "Just be careful." I grabbed a litter, an aid bag and some other stuff and went in. I don`t think I`ll ever forget the way she looked at me, because it was one of those good-bye kind of looks. We talked about it later, and she really didn`t expect me to come back out of there.

The water was up to about your ankles, and they were digging and digging and digging. There were about 30 people in there. And I went around and I checked, you know, to make sure everybody was all right. It was mostly smoke inhalation and just shock.

I noticed that everybody was staring at this hole, and there was smoke coming out of this hole. I said, "What`s going on over there?" And they said, "There`s people trapped in there." I was like, "All right, well, I`m not doing anything out here and there`s people in there that need me." So that`s where I went. At first I was just helping to clear debris as best I could, and it was horrible. There was smoke everywhere, and it burned. It burned your lungs. You couldn`t see.

I had to come back out because I couldn`t breathe, and I started coughing, and everybody handed me a mask, basically a t-shirt. . I went around again to make sure that everybody was fine, and we went back in.

About that time the first person from the area came out. When I was doing my checks, the first person came out. And I had known that there was one in there. She came out, and she was on the litter, and they were carrying her out. . I did a complete assessment on her while she was moving . and then I went back inside. We got a little bit further, and we were digging and digging. There was smoke and fire everywhere.

[A man was found alive.] When we finally got to him, they used a wet t-shirt to revive him. We helped to get that guy out of there, get him on a litter and get him out. And there were two people that were burned to death right next to him, who didn`t make it because they couldn`t get under the table fast enough.

We got him out, and then we couldn`t go back in because the room was just engulfed. About 15 or 20 seconds later the room just went up. I tried to go back in because they said that there were still more people back there. There was an estimate that there were four more people trapped down there around the side. We tried, and we couldn`t do it.

When [the Air Force surgeon general] finally said, "We`ve got to get out of here," I went out to the courtyard and they were evacuating people, and there was Capt. Glidewell [Jennifer Glidewell, an Army nurse]. She was still there. She wouldn`t leave until all the patients were gone. And then when they were gone, she was redirecting where all the medical supplies were so they wouldn`t be left behind. There was a report of a plane coming in, and they wanted to get us out of there because they wanted to get us away from the building in case it hit the building again. . We grabbed as much medical equipment as we could and went out. . They funneled us back underneath the underpass because the plane was supposedly coming in low and fast.

Capt. Durm [Navy Capt. William Durm], who is the commander of our dental clinic, was down there, and he`s saying, "This is ridiculous. The patients aren`t here. There`s nobody over there to take care of the patients when they come out. We have to go back over there." The [police] were saying, "You can`t go. There`s a plane coming in," and the captain [said], "Court martial me. I`m going." And I looked at him and I was like, "All right! Finally." And we went . I looked behind me and I saw everybody from our clinic, all the medics and all of our techs and everybody that was there, who had grabbed equipment and were coming to help. They were the ones who had the spearhead out there for the second charge.

First we were stockpiling all the medical stuff by like items, just to try to get it there, and people were just coming in left and right, do you need help, where do you need me, do you need help, where do you need me? [Army and other medical personnel re-established a triage and patient care site in the center courtyard of the Pentagon.]

I`m looking around and I noticed that the firefighters were still working, but they didn`t have a recess station set up for them yet. So I went down and I grabbed some water, and I grabbed some cups, and a blood pressure cuff and everything else, and went down ran a recess station for the firefighters that were down there. A recess station is a place where every firefighter has to circle through when they do their thing. You check their blood pressure. You check to see that they`re not getting dehydrated. You check their color, their temperature. You have water there for them. Even if they don`t want to drink it, you make them drink it.

It was hot out that day. . You get a big jug of Gatorade and you just pour two jugs of Gatorade into the water, and [the firefighters] are like, "This is nasty." I`m like, "Yeah, I know. Drink it. It`s sugar, and it`s sweet, and it`s got electrolytes in it. Drink it."

After a while it wasn`t just me walking around with my little squirt bottle going, "Here, drink. Here, drink." It was people handing out bags of ice. It was buckets of ice-cold drinks all of a sudden coming in from everywhere.

Then I went from there to, "Ok, we`ve pushed back all the sites into the road behind the barrier. What do you need? Tell me what you need and I`ll go get it. I`ll go find it somewhere." And that`s what I was doing.

I snagged a respirator, one of those little pocket respirators, and I kept it in my pocket all night. I think one of the biggest things that got to me was, I was really shaken up about the fact that there were still those four people trapped down there that we couldn`t get to. And I was like, you know, if I would have had one of these, maybe we could have gotten a little bit further. Maybe the smoke wouldn`t have bothered us that bad.

We stayed that night out there on site. It was somewhere around 9:30 or 10 that night that we all started realizing that this was no longer a rescue operation. . We had all this stuff set up and ready to go because [we thought] they were going to pull people out. And then you slowly start to realize that no, they`re not. It`s not going to happen. And that`s what affects you the most.

The next day I went home probably around [noon]. They`re like, "Get out of here," and I`m like, "Yeah, yeah, ok, I`ll go." Major Brown [Maj. Lorie Brown, the Pentagon clinic`s chief nurse] finally looked at me and gave me a direct order that I needed to leave. . I thought that was funny because she didn`t leave for three days.

I went home and everything was a blur, everything was a dream. You were walking out to your car, but it`s not like you`re really walking at all. It`s kind of like you`re just standing there and you`re going through the movements, and the earth is moving underneath you, and everything else is moving around you, kind of like you`re in a movie.

Who could sleep, you know what I mean? You go home, you lie down, and your head is just filled with everything that you just did, and your phone is ringing off the hook because everybody that you`ve ever known—ex-girlfriends that I hadn`t talked to in years—called me up. They wouldn`t even tell me who they were. They were like, "I just wanted to know that you`re all right." I`m like, "Who is this?" "It doesn`t matter," and they`d hang up. Just so they knew that I was all right.

The big thing about it was, in the aftermath, everybody pitched in, and everybody helped out. Everybody did the best that they could, you know. Not any one thing that he did, or she did, or I did is of any more importance than anything that anybody else did.

You know, [a coworker] helped save somebody`s life, too, that day, and he was sitting there talking to me about how that person called him, that person`s family called him at home to thank him, and that put it all in perspective for him. It wasn`t about . who gets what award, who does what or anything like that. It`s about the saving of people. It`s about people saving people. In all honesty, that`s what it`s about, you know.

The number one thing that I tell people who say, "Can you sum it up in one sentence, one phrase?" I`ll say, "In 24 hours, I got to see the worst and the best of humanity."

For immediate release, Sept. 6, 2002.