As New York City waded through the wreckage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, local electrical workers took stock of how hard the tragedy hit.
When the airplanes struck, more than 200 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local #3 workers were on site at the World Trade Center Towers. At press time, 16 of these IBEW #3 members counted among the more than 6,000 total missing people. These workers were employed by Denino Electric, Flushing, N.Y.; Forest Electric Corp., New York, N.Y.; Kleinknacht Electric, New York, N.Y.; P.E. Stone Electric, New York, N.Y.; and Petrocelli Electric Co., Long Island City, N.Y.
“Our Local usually had more than 200 workers at the Trade Center because of constant renovations,” said Vincent McElroen, spokesperson for IBEW No. 3. “One worker was killed on his very first day as an electrical apprentice.”
Nine electricians from E-J Electric Installation Co., Long Island City, N.Y., escaped from the World Trade Center before the 110-story Twin Towers collapsed. E-J Electric, which had an office in Tower 2, built and maintained the World Trade Center's entire security system. (See story on page 12).
One New York electrical distributor lost an employee. Michael Lowe, a delivery driver for Liberty Electrical Supply, Brooklyn, N.Y., was known to be trapped somewhere in the building's lower level just before the towers collapsed.
“I know he was there when that building came down, the No. 1 World Trade Center. He was trapped down in the loading dock and he couldn't get out,” said Claudette Henry, Liberty Electrical's dispatcher.
Lowe was among a number of delivery drivers at the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks, dropping off materials to contractors at the multiple work sites.
Just blocks away from Ground Zero, the Manhattan branch of Kennedy Electrical Supply Corp., Jamaica, N.Y., narrowly escaped falling debris, which landed one city block away. David Weinstein, the company's general manager, described the surreal events his delivery driver witnessed following the crashes.
“We were making a delivery in World Trade Center Building No. 1 when the first plane hit,” Weinstein said. “The next thing our driver, Corey Richardson, knew was that he was in the air being blown over the railing. As bodies started to rain down, Corey left the truck, ran out of the receiving dock and escaped unharmed.”
While the scene inside became chaotic, outside the towers a panicked escape was taking place.
“Several of our drivers watched the plane hit the World Trade Center, as did a number of our outside sales personnel,” Weinstein said. “Our city trucks were beset with people clamoring to exit the area, and as we drove away there were electricians in the cab, truck body, on the roof, on the engine hood and just holding onto the doors. Many people rode this way clear from downtown New York City to our base in Jamaica, Queens. Our World Trade Center truck, however, remains buried under 15 stories of rubble.”
Another area driver narrowly escaped peril after the Sept. 11 crashes. According to Chris Brazill, a rep with Brazill Brothers & Associates Inc., Metuchen, N.J., one of Brazill Brothers' drivers was in the delivery dock with the Kennedy and Liberty drivers and was able to escape.
“I haven't spoken with the driver yet, but I know he was affected,” Brazill said. “He saw some horrific things … He saw an airplane wheel land and smash a car not too far from where he was.”
While many say that the shock of the event is still lingering, the rescue and recovery effort at Ground Zero goes on.
Robert Gargan, the Long Island City branch manager for Graybar Electric Co. Inc., St. Louis, said the emergency personnel require a lot of supplies.
“What we're seeing now is a big volume on hardhats, flashlights, batteries, dust masks and gloves. So, we're coordinating that with a lot of different agencies.”
Liberty Electrical Supply is one of the local distributors contributing to the search for survivors. The company also donated thousands of hard hats and pairs of gloves, as well as tools, clothes and rain gear.
“On Friday evening after the attacks, we were in the convoy with the New York City Fire Department to deliver supplies to Ground Zero,” said Stephen Mayer, the company's chief financial officer. “The devastation was just beyond belief.”
A number of distributors are responding to the tragedy by making their services available 24 hours a day.
Kennedy Electrical Supply faxed an emergency contact sheet to all 1,200 customers listing the home numbers, Nextel codes and cell numbers of all managers and salespeople capable of opening any of its five locations for 24/7 service, Kennedy Electrical's Weinstein said. “Right now, it isn't about business. It's about coping with the unthinkable and getting through the emergencies that each day brings.”
W.W. Grainger Inc., Chicago, is keeping its Varick St. branch near Ground Zero open 24 hours a day as the rescue and recovery effort continues. The company mobilized $1 million in cash and emergency supplies, and is pooling emergency supplies from its 20 locations within 100 miles of Ground Zero.
During the first week of the tragedy, IBEW workers joined the rescue effort. When the focus shifted from rescue to recovery during the second week, IBEW and other union workers were encouraged to go back to their regular jobs in attempt to get things back to normal, said IBEW's McElroen.
New York-area workers, union and open shop, responded to the tragedy. After they saw the smoldering Manhattan skyline from across the Hudson River and then heard the news, members of New Jersey Local #164 working on the Jersey City waterfront redevelopment projects, crossed the Hudson to help. Dozens of Local #164 workers donated their time to the search and rescue effort.
Initially, just volunteers were on the site, said Joseph D'Angelo, Executive Secretary of the National Electrical Contractors (NECA) New York City Chapter. Then general contractors moved on site to handle specific assignments. Electrical contractors on site doing reconstruction include Forest Electric, New York, N.Y.; Mazzeo Electric, Long Island City, N.Y., and Hugh O'Kane, New York, N.Y. Forest Electric was a major contractor for installation and maintenance services for various World Trade Center clients.