As New York City wades through the wreckage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, those in the local electrical business are taking stock of just how hard they were hit by the tragedy.
Among the more than 5,000 missing are 16 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 3. These workers were employed by Denino Electric, Flushing, N.Y.; Forest Electric Corp., New York; Kleinknacht Electric, New York; P.E. Stone Electric, New York; 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.
One New York electrical distributor still has an employee missing. Michael Lowe, a delivery driver for Liberty Electrical Supply, Brooklyn, N.Y., is still unaccounted for and 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, 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. Henry said she had spoken with him over the phone several times before she finally paged him after the building collapsed and did not receive a response.
Stephen Mayer, chief financial officer for Liberty Electrical Supply, said the situation was especially difficult because there is no actual confirmation of Lowe’s fate.
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 within was chaotic, outside the World Trade Center 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 in 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.”
Another rep was left stranded outside the city after the attack.
“I was going to a Graybar golf outing in Westchester County and the golf outing got called off,” said Patrick Burgoyne of Burgoyne Electric Sales Co., Edison, N.J. “There was nothing we could do because all the exits out of New York were closed.”
Many distributors with branches in lower Manhattan felt the tragedy’s effects both emotionally and physically.
Just 10 blocks from the World Trade Center site, employees of international distributor Argo International, New York, felt the force of the explosion, and when they went outside to see what happened, many saw the second plane hit.
“No Argo people were hurt, but friends and family members were part of fatalities. It’s a sad day for New York City, New York, the U.S. and the world,” said John SantaCroce, the company’s president and chief operating officer.
SantaCroce spoke with authorities on the day of the attack about keeping the Argo building open for rescue teams as a staging area or possibly a hospital, but the staff had to evacuate the facility that afternoon.
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 huge amount 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.”
Graybar branches in the New York/New Jersey area are working overtime to fill emergency orders.
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, we were in the convoy with the New York City Fire Department to deliver supplies to Ground Zero,” said Mayer. “The feeling of patriotism … it was just an awesome feeling. The devastation was just beyond belief.”
Kennedy Electrical Supply’s efforts to restore services to the area have included supplying batteries, flashlights, dusk masks. In the midst of, literally, explosive conditions, Kennedy delivery personnel brought cable to power Con Edison generators and later brought supplies to re-power the New York Stock Exchange.
A number of distributors are responding to the tragedy by making their services available 24 hours a day.
“We immediately 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 our five locations for 24/7 service,” 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.”
Liberty and Brazill Brothers said they were also available 24 hours a day and Graybar extended the hours for its Long Island branch.
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.
Joel Thea, principal, Thea and Schoen Inc., Clifton, N.J., said his company opened its warehouse on Saturday after the attacks and will stay open 24/7 if needed. He hasn’t seen much work yet directly related to the crisis, although his company sold some welding cable for generators and batteries for supplemental power. He has been impressed with manufacturers’ response.
“Every factory has been unbelievable. By the time they were able to contact us it was, ‘Can we get material into you? Whatever we can do, we’re here and ready to do it for you.’ That’s really been terrific. We’ve start to receive some material, and we’re trying to beef up our inventory for if and when we start to get these calls.
“Because business has been slow over the last four to six months around the country, many manufacturers probably had cut back on production, and there may not be tremendous amounts of inventory around. This is going to be an interesting period of time.”