We will never forget the catastrophic events of that fateful September day and the thousands of innocent lives lost, not only on 9-11 but, tragically, to this day. As we approach the 16th anniversary of September 11, 2001, a day in our history that irrevocably altered all of our lives and the landscape of our great city, we look back at where we came from and how New Yorkers are actively building the future.
We recently were afforded the opportunity to speak with John Connolly, Director of Field Operations for Total Safety Consulting, Gallagher Bassett’s parent company. John was one block south of the World Trade Center when the first plane struck. His memories of the barbaric terror attack are as vivid today as they were in the days immediately after. Below is a portion of our conversation:
Remembering September 11th
Gallagher Bassett: Can you tell us where you were on September 11th?
John Connolly: Let me set the scene for you for a minute. [September 10th] was a rainy, stormy day; but the 11th was sunny and clear. We had a crew of scaffold erectors working at 90 West St., one block south of the World Trade Center. [Editor’s Note: In 2001, John Connolly worked as the Safety Director for Atlantic- Heydt Hoist and Scaffolding.] I had just come from another job on Nassau Street when we heard an explosion. Initially, we thought it was a bomb but then the second plane hit. [At the time] we were still [at 90 West St.] when we heard the second explosion. And that’s when all hell broke loose.
There were about 7 of us working on that site and when we left the building, we saw people running all over the place not really knowing where to go and what to do. That’s when we started heading down West St. towards Battery Park. When we got to the park, you could clearly see what had happened. You could see the towers collapse from the park and we knew we had to get out of there. It was incredible; we just tried to run further away, towards the FDR Drive.
Eventually, John and his crew made their way north to the Manhattan Bridge and ultimately made their way safely back to their Maspeth shop.
Gallagher Bassett: In days and months after the attacks, did you have a continued role in the cleanup or rebuilding?
JC: I wasn’t on the pile, but what we did there was provide a lot of the protection [for those working at the site]. We didn’t get back to the area until September 13th and once there, we began mobilizing from the perimeter of the pile to provide temporary protection – scaffolding, netting, and planking for those first responders. There were loose structures as the NYPD and FBI had cordoned off the site, which was considered an active crime scene.
Rebuilding and Moving Forward
Gallagher Bassett: What’s it like going back to the WTC area now?
JC: It’s bittersweet. I’m glad that they’ve rebuilt and that there’s production for the sake of “life going on” and not being so downtrodden. I don’t use that saying loosely because the bitter part is that a lot of people lost their lives that day – first responders, civilians.
The two pools that are there as a memorial will help others remember. It’s our generation’s Pearl Harbor. It’s a memorial for all those that served and lost their lives but also a reminder that there’s been progress. There’s a new tower, there are new buildings going up; we’re not letting [the attack] take away from our way of life.
Gallagher Bassett: What was it like having been a part of the recovery and rebuilding?
JC: Quite frankly, it’s a badge of honor to have worked on the WTC site. The firefighters, the [NYPD & Port Authority PD], and the construction workers – they were all out there working to rebuild and make the area safe again. If you want to see someone beaming with pride and “no one can beat us” attitude, you talk to those folks. They will not be beaten.
John Connolly has spent 32 years working in construction and dedicated over 19 years specifically to safety management. As Director of Field Operations, John is responsible for the management and direct supervision and coordination of approximately 140 safety professionals on major construction projects throughout the NYC area. He’s an invaluable asset to our organization and we sincerely thank him for taking the time to share his experience and for his relentless optimism about the future of our beloved city and country.