Washington, DC -- It is a regimented life of working, eating, and sleeping for FEMA rescue workers who continue searching around the clock for survivors and victims from the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center complex.
Eight of FEMA's 28 Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces are in New York, working in support of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Task forces spend most of their time at Ground Zero. Between shifts they return to their encampment of cots and tents spread across the concrete floor of the massive Jacob Javitz Convention Center. It is a scene of organized chaos.
"After transport, briefing, and eating, we get maybe four or five hours to sleep," said Joe Brocato, a rescue specialist with FEMA's Pennsylvania Task Force-1. He is one of approximately 600 FEMA workers dedicated to this unprecedented search effort.
"We work, work, work, then pull back and have to wait while they move huge girders and other heavy objects," Brocato said. "It's tedious. At times it's frustrating. But it is an honor to be here."
As the teams are transported to and from Ground Zero, streets are lined with crowds cheering the rescue worker's heroism. Boxes of donated water, food, clothing and supplies line the sidewalks, tangible expressions of the nation's shared grief.
"We've been overwhelmed by the support from New York City and the world," Brucato said.
After returning from a day or night of difficult, dangerous and often disturbing work, there are showers to wash away the dirt, grit, and the smoke. There is joking and teasing between team members in the partitioned sleeping areas filling one floor of the convention center.
"Call home, eat, and sleep, in that order," said Arthur Gonsalves, a rescue specialist with California Task Force 7 from Sacramento, describing his time away from Ground Zero. "It makes Oklahoma look small, but people are checking on each other a lot."
Yesterday, Massachusetts Task Force-1 was relieved by Florida Task Force-2. Additional FEMA Task Forces will be deployed to relieve those already on-site, but teams will continue to work around the clock for as long as FDNY wants their assistance.
"It's overwhelming that we lost so many of our brothers," said Forrest Rowell, a Sacramento fireman and rescue squad leader with California Task Force 7. "I just wish we could do more."