As law enforcement officers, Frank Sisto and Ken Rodriguez serve as members of St. Lucie Public Schools Safety and Security Team. However, on September 11, 2001, they were members of a different team — the New York Police Department. Both gentlemen were first responders involved in rescue and recovery efforts, putting others before self as they answered the call.
“This day will forever live in my heart as the day some sacrificed all to serve and protect the great citizens of New York City. We must never forget the innocent victims and the selfless acts of true heroism! I will always cherish being part of a group of first responders who gave all they could on that horrific day.”
— Ken Rodriguez
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY KEN RODRIGUEZ
Frank Sisto shared an article with us that he wrote for TCPalm several years ago on the 10th anniversary of this tragic event.
Port St. Lucie man helped identify 9/11 victims
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a sergeant in the New York Police Department. I was the supervisor of an auto larceny unit based in Brooklyn.
When the first plane struck the World Trade Center, I was enjoying breakfast with some former co-workers. I immediately drove home to retrieve my gear and rush to the scene.
The streets of New York were a surreal sight out of some apocalyptic movie. As I loaded my gear into my car and cleared the ash and debris from my car windows, I looked out across the East River at the burning hole in the north tower.
When I arrived at my base, my unit was placed on standby awaiting further attacks. Policeman are strange individuals, we run towards danger instead of away from it. We always choose the fight response instead of the flight response, so watching the tragedy unfold on television as our city turned into a war zone was utterly frustrating.
We would get our gloves and get into the game in a big way in the days to come.
On Sept. 12, my unit was placed in charge of one of the temporary morgues. We were set up in a high school a few blocks from ground zero. The lobby was transformed into a makeshift morgue.
We were dispatched to “Found Remains” on the northeast side of the site. Lower Manhattan was turned into a World War II movie set. We traveled through the rubble-laden streets on golf carts … to make the recovery and to transport the remains to the temporary morgue where we aided FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) in a tentative identification process.
Placing the bags from the site onto the tables, we aided the morticians and medical examiners and tried to find identifying marks, tattoos or jewelry on the remains. … Any identification would provide closure to tortured families awaiting word of their loved ones.
Afterward, we loaded this cargo into ambulances for transport to the main temporary morgue. This was an extremely taxing time both physically and mentally, dealing with the gruesome sights and countless hours and days, 17 hour work days and seven-day work weeks.
By the time we got home and washed the day’s cement dust and ash off our bodies it was time to return to work.
This assignment lasted until the end of October. The outpouring of love and kindness from all the people of the country is what kept our spirits up and made our days more bearable.
The events of Sept. 11… took away the sense of security in our lives …. I have had to live with the gruesomeness of this terrorist attack on an almost daily basis.
Another constant reminder of this tragedy is the countless number of sick first responders. Numerous people who served at the various locations (ground zero, Fresh Kills Landfill etc.) have developed unexplained cancers and diseases, and more than 1,000 heroes have passed away in the 10 years since.
Every year I go for my World Trade Center physical wondering: Is this the year that I become a statistic?
PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED BY FRANK SISTO