(from SEIU/1199 News November 2001, online version: http://www.1199seiu.org/articles/article.cfm?ID=4376)
The Ones Left Behind
On Sept. 11 Cabrini EMT Marc Sullins lost his life trying to save others. His co-workers are left struggling to pick up the pieces.
"Each of us is affected so profoundly that we're reluctant to talk about Sept. 11," says Lynne Burmeister, director of the NBF's Members Assistance Program. "People need to talk about it, and they need to know that we're all affected.
"What happened goes to the very core of our sense of safety," she stresses. "We all felt safe in the U.S., because this was something that happened in other places. Members and their families should know that we're all here together to help one another."
Burmeister says that calls have begun to trickle in as people get over the shock and attempt to return to their normal routines. "We tell members that support systems are crucial," she says. "We ask them, who can you depend on and who can you reconnect with to help get you through this period?"
1199 organizers and delegates have distributed leaflets about the helpline that say in part:
"Some of us are experiencing feelings of fear, numbness, anger, depression, irritability and hopelessness. The aftermath of the attack may also exacerbate existing stress-related illnesses like hypertension or cause new physical symptoms like restlessness, aggression, head or stomach aches. Call the helpline!
Of special concern to 1199 and the NBF are acts of bigotry against people of Arab descent and of the Muslim faith. The MAP can also help address this issue.
The MAP will make available other counseling resources and information, including guidelines for helping children cope with the crisis.
According to his partner Alison Groia, Cabrini EMT Marc Sullins was the kind of guy who simply wasn't able to sit by and do nothing. That's why she wasn't surprised when on Sept. 11, though his shift had ended, Sullins raced to the scene of the World Trade Center disaster rather than return home to Queens where he lived with wife Evelyn and sons Cristian, 18 months, and Julian, 4.
"Marc wanted to save lives. He thought he could do more so that's what he did, " says Groia.
When last seen Sullins was heading into the World Trade Center's Tower Two to treat an injured victim. He went in spite of the protests of Iris Gomez, the EMT he was paired with that day. According to Groia, Gomez told Sullins the building didn't look safe and they should work outside. But Sullins was intent on helping as many of the injured inside the burning tower as he possibly could. While Gomez treated the wounded that made it outside Sullins hurried in. Ten minutes later, says Groia, the building collapsed.
Groia and other Cabrini emergency services personnel spent much of the day at at the Chelsea Piers staging area waiting to be sent out on rescue calls that never came.
"I have never seen as many ambulances as that day," says Groia. "By the time we got there all the ones from out of state had arrived and they were all lined up and waiting to go out on calls like the rest of us."
It was there, after the initial adrenaline rush, that she and her co-workers began to realize what they had seen and what was happening.
"I walked over to one of our medics," she says. "He was crying - this big, tough, buff guy - he just kept saying to me that he couldn't believe what we saw."
It was there also that they got the word that Sullins' unit had not returned with the hundreds of rescue workers who had been sent away from downtown. His whereabouts were unknown.
Groia says the first few days after Sullins went missing were the hardest.
"Marc can never be replaced and I keep thinking that I might have been able to stop him," she says. "But I also think that I might have been right behind him."
Groia says it was tough coming back to work after September 11, but she also knows it would have been harder to stay at home in Brooklyn.
"Nobody was sleeping. Nobody was normal," she says of her group at work. "Nobody wanted to deal with our regulars. Everybody wanted to be down there [at ground zero] helping to find him."
In those first days after his disappearance co-workers decorated Sullins' Cabrini locker with ribbons and flowers - symbols that they had not given up hope that he might yet be rescued.
"Not having confirmation was the hardest; the not knowing," says Groia. "I would sit in the locker room and wait for him to open the door and yell at me for not answering his radio signal."
Now that the memorial services, candlelight vigils and ceremonies are over, that symbol of hope has become a symbol of loss. But Groia says she still gets strength from looking at the locker covered with decorations, poems and photos when she comes to work.
"On the days I work I sit in front of it and smoke a cigarette and talk to Marc," she says "It makes me feel like he's still with me. I ask him to look out for the rest of us."