NEW YORK — There’s certainly nothing typical about Donna Nemeth’s temporary job in New York. The disaster scene there does not resemble any wildland fire she’s been on and the support team assignment will likely last about a month.
Working in a warehouse three miles from the World Trade Center disaster site, Grand Canyon National Park’s Nemeth finds it difficult to express how she feels about being part of the Southwest Area Incident Management Team doing their duty in the aftermath of the worst-ever attack on the United States.
"I’m happy to be here, but really it’s hard to describe how I feel," said Nemeth, who paused for several moments to find the words. "It’s hard for me to answer ... suffice it to say, I’m grateful for this opportunity."
Nemeth, fire information officer at Grand Canyon, left for New York on the afternoon of the attacks with GCNP’s Dan Oltrogge as well as team members from Kaibab National Forest, Coconino National Forest and other agencies. They arrived in the early morning hours of Sept. 12.
"I really can’t speak for everyone else, but it’s a very supportive team effort and I think our people are doing just fine," Nemeth said. "We’re just doing the best we can to contribute. That keeps you going."
Usually serving on the team in a wildland fire situation, there’s nothing really that compares to this current assignment for Nemeth and her fellow workers.
"I’ve never been on a 30-day assignment before," Nemeth said. "The longest before this was 21 days and then that was changed to 14 days. We got word this morning that we will be leaving Oct. 14, but that’s a tentative date at this time."
During those 30 days, team members receive just two days off. Two shifts keep busy day and night unloading and stacking supplies in support of several urban search-and-rescue crews involved in the search effort at the site of the collapsed Twin Towers.
Donated goods from around the country consistently flow into the area as Red Cross and Salvation Army warehouses set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency filled rapidly.
"We’re continuing to help logistically by managing the warehouse facility," Nemeth said. "There are several hot-shot crews here, including one from Zuni, N.M. They arrived last night (Saturday)."
The receiving-and-distribution warehouse at Javits Convention Center in mid-town Manhattan is closer to "Ground Zero" than any of the other similar facilities. Nemeth said there’s a warehouse set up in Edison, N.J., as a backup.
"Those are the two main ones," she said. "Along with those, there are a number of good food banks helping us store items as the incident progresses. Some of the other warehouse locations are in up-state New York."
Cathie Schmidlin of Kaibab National Forest, also on-site as an incident information officer, said in an e-mail message last week that "the Augusta and Midewin hot-shot crews did a tremendous job of cleaning an old unused warehouse that had accumulaed 30 years of debris and pigeon droppings."
Oltrogge, serving as incident commander trainee, is part of the team’s planning section that relocated to the Duane Fire Station. The fire station, which serves as the city’s rescue operation headquarters, is located just three blocks from the World Trade Center site.
The New York City Fire Department requested the move so the planning team could help with planning and documentation.
While in New York, team members remain focused on the duties at hand. Still, periodically, there are moments for those little things in a person’s normal everyday life.
Take Nemeth, for example. She found a 24-hour deli just down the street from the hotel where they’re staying. As a result, she spends a lot of time there getting a "good fill of coffee."
The caffeine comes in handy when heading back to the warehouse for another 12-hour shift. But there are no complaints.
It’s all part of the Amerian way — being there to help in a time of need.