When Jim Gruenberg arrived at what the media was already calling “Ground Zero” in New York City at 1:00 a.m. after the terrorist attacks brought down the World Trade Center towers, he found thousands of people clamoring over several, huge piles of destruction.
“Smoke is still rising from deep within the pits. Cranes are being put in place. Fire streams try to cool the molten steel…and you notice a smell. A mixture of the smoke still rising and the wet remains of things and people already burnt up. This smell will not leave you,” he said.
Gruenberg described the scene at Ground Zero to a crowd of more than 200 people on Sunday during Fairborn’s 10th Annual 9/11 Ceremony held on the grounds of Calamityville, home to Wright State University’s National Center for Medical Readiness, in Fairborn.
Gruenberg was sent to New York by FEMA to serve as the agency’s liaison between its search and rescue teams and the special operations command chief of the fire department.
Gruenberg was a member of the Fire Department of New York from 1985 to 1990, where he served in one of the busiest fire companies in the city: Engine Company 42 in the Bronx. He later moved to Ohio to raise his family. He has deployed for FEMA to multiple disasters, including at least eight hurricanes. He has since helped launched Calamityville as one of the co-founders, where he is currently associate director of technology integration.
Though originally assigned to the Pentagon in the federal response to the attacks, Gruenberg was diverted to New York because of his familiarity with the city and the fire department.
“My arrival at Ground Zero was an attempt to bring some order out of the chaos of thousands of first responders who had crowded the scene looking to find their place on the pile,” he said.
Attendees also heard from Bruce Lyman, a Fairborn native and active Air Force reservist who was present at the Pentagon when it was struck. Lyman volunteered for 20 missions to Iraq and Afghanistan following the attacks.
“September 11th stands as a constant reminder that the fight for freedom is real,” he said.
Senator Chris Widener, R-Springfield, and U.S. Congressman Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, also spoke at the ceremony.
“Many Ohioans still feel very connected to 9/11 today,” Austria said. “We’ll never forget those from Fairborn who went to New York City.”
Widener also recognized first responders. “I think of the first responders who arrived in New York that day and knew they weren’t going home to their families anytime soon; and I think of those people who are standing here today, as first responders and members of our armed forces who have worked to keep us safe since then,” Widener said.
The ceremony also featured a display of the World Trade Center steel artifact recently acquired by Fairborn from the New York Port Authority. The steel will be integrated into a monument to be located at Calamityville to memorialize the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, as well as commemorate the 3,000 civilians and first responders who lost their lives. The city hopes to dedicate the memorial on September 11, 2012.
The National Center for Medical Readiness at Calamityville is a division of the Department of Emergency Medicine in the Boonshoft School of Medicine.