On September 11, 2001, Thomas Traynor, an officer with the New York Police Department, ran towards the World Trade Center to conduct search and rescues after the deadly terror attack. Seventeen years later, he sped towards North Carolina to help people as Hurricane Florence approached the coast.
He is just one of 83 members of the New York Task Force-1, which left for North Carolina on the anniversary of Sept. 11 to help with hurricane rescue and relief efforts. The task force consists of trained New York Fire Department members and NYPD officers who are highly skilled in technical rescues, including swiftwater rescues.
“Deployment was emotional because of what was going on at home, but we had to put that stuff aside,” Traynor said. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years, and people need our help.”
As Traynor spoke, his voice cut in and out, punctuated by crackles, dead air-silence, and immense audible rushes of rain-laced wind. Yet, he remained calm.
“Most are fleeing the hurricane, and I’m running into it,” he said. “My daughter asked, why do you want to do this?” Traynor paused for a moment.
“Because people need our help,” he said. “You don’t even think about it.”
He didn’t need to think about it when he went down to the World Trade Center either.
“We never imagines it would be that catastrophic,” he said. “No one thought it was as bad as it was until we got down there. We lost a lot of people that day.”
Usually, the NYPD and FDNY memorializes Sept. 11 through ceremonies and speeches that remember those who lost their lives. This year, Joseph Downey, the FDNY Battalion Chief and leader of the task force, spoke before deployment to Florence about the significance of the anniversary for those that were left behind.
“My dad, Deputy Chief Ray Downey, was killed on 9/11,” he said. “It’s a tough day but it’s symbolic of what we do here in the city, we have to look at it as we’re doing the right thing for those we lost and our loved ones.”
Downey believes he is commemorating his father’s sacrifice by following his example in helping others.
“He was the godfather of search and rescue, not only for New York, but for the rest of the country,” Downey said.
His father was one of the first responders when the South Tower fell, managing to escape after rescuing others. Then, he went right back into the North Tower to do his job.
“He was assisting people when it collapsed,” Downey said. “I think he knew it was going to happen, because he ordered other firefighters to leave the surrounding street area before he went back in.”
Downey credits his father with starting training programs for technical rescues in the FDNY in the late 1980s. Now, the same type of training that was used to search for survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers is being used to help people escape from rising waters in the Carolinas.
The task force has already begun rescuing people from their homes.
“We’re in an area that’s going to be flooded really badly,” Downey said. “My father would want our team to go out there and represent New York City and continue his legacy. It’s an honor for us to do that, but especially around 9/11.”
When Doug Isaacs, a medical director at FDNY, arrived in North Carolina, he thought of the friends he lost who worked in the towers. At the time of the terror attacks, he was in his residency and had volunteered to help with medical relief efforts.
“9/11 is the reason I joined the fire department,” he said.
For Isaacs, he said this year’s anniversary took on a different meaning. He said he thinks his friends who died that day would be proud if they could see him now.
“It’s something we never forget,” he said. “It drives us.”