Ambulance corps helps at Ground Zero

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The members of the Glen Oaks Volunteer Ambulance Corps hit Ground Zero running Sept. 11 even though the group lacked a permanent home and one of its two ambulances was mothballed for repairs.

The corps was just one of the many volunteer ambulance companies to make their way down to Lower Manhattan on the day the Twin Towers collapsed to help with the rescue and recovery effort.

When the two passenger jets hit the World Trade Center that Tuesday morning, Ted Rabinowitz, president of the Glen Oaks Volunteer Ambulance Corps., was sitting home. Another member, Nancy Ehrhardt, was at the city Department of Environmental Protection, where she works as a civil engineer.

Her husband Henry, who manages the telephone system for the city Department of Sanitation, was in Albany. And Jim Downey, president of the Jamaica Estates-Holliswood-South Bayside Volunteer Ambulance Corps, was at his job as the Social Security office in Jamaica.

At different points in the day, each was able to get to the World Trade Center site in order to provide emergency assistance. Their greatest fear, they all recalled, was that there would not be many survivors.

Even the Glen Oaks corps’ youth organization mobilized — they raised $4,000 to buy supplies, which was sent over to the Shea Stadium staging area.

“No one knew what was going on after the planes hit,” said Rabinowitz, who stayed at the corps headquarters directing people down to the site until he got there himself around 5 p.m. “Driving into the city there was no one there. It was strange when you are the only one on the highway.”

A MASH-style hospital was set up at the medical staging area near Stuyvesant High School, he said, but there was not much to do for the 150 to 200 doctors, nurses and EMS professionals who were ready for anything.

“You could walk down 50 feet and there was nothing,” Rabinowitz said. “You wanted to do something, but there were no survivors. It was the worst feeling I ever had.”

None of the more than 15 members of Glen Oaks or the Jamaica Estates-Holliswood-South Bayside corps was injured during the rescue effort.

The members of both companies drove themselves to Ground Zero. The Glen Oaks Volunteer Ambulance Corps could not take its one mobile ambulance because there always has to be one in its coverage area of Glen Oaks, Bellerose, Floral Park and New Hyde Park.

Once at the site, the companies treated fireman and police officers with smoke inhalation or eye problems at different medical staging areas.

Ehrhardt, who drove into Lower Manhattan with Rabinowitz, said that when she first heard about the planes slamming into the Twin Towers, she thought the office comedians were playing a practical joke. She said it was an eerie feeling as they drove into Manhattan, passing checkpoint after checkpoint and picking up military personnel along the way.

“One of the things that will stay in my mind forever was walking over piles upon piles of fire gear and firemen,” she said. “The firemen were sleeping and resting on their gear.”

Henry Ehrhardt said he was probably lucky to be in Albany at the New York State Emergency Medical Service Council meeting at the time of the attack. He said his Manhattan office is just a few blocks from the Towers and he would have run over to help after the first plane hit.

He heard about the attack while talking to John Clair, the assistant commissioner of medical affairs for the FDNY, who had to be flown by helicopter to Ground Zero.

On Sept. 11, Downey was sitting in his office on the seventh floor in the Social Security Building in Jamaica when his co-workers called him to the window. From the Social Security Building, he could see the Towers burning.

After taking a fellow employee with back pain to the hospital, he came back to his office and told his boss he was going to join the Jamaica Estates corps at Ground Zero. He headed over to the staging area at Cunningham Park, where he transported doctors and nurses from Long Island Jewish Hospital to the World Trade Center.

“It was some sight,” Downey said. “On the LIE coming into the city all you could see was smoke, and there was a big void in downtown Manhattan.

“No one knew what to expect.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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