(from SEIU/1199 News April,2002 online version: http://www.1199seiu.org/articles/article.cfm?ID=5398)

Looking back at Disaster

Two 1199ers tell how their lives have changed since Sept. 11

It's been more than six months since Sept. 11 - the day when in less than 10 minutes the lives of New Yorkers and the nation were forever changed. Cabrini Hospital EMT Marc Sullins gave his life trying to save others in the disaster. Many other 1199ers were also there at ground zero. Two who were, NYU Downtown Hospital paramedic Juana Lomi and St. Vincent's Staten Island EMT Bill Amaniera, spoke with 1199 News about how that day has unalterably changed their lives and made them more dedicated than ever to their professions.

Bill Amaniera

Bill Amaniera: "There's Nothing I'd Rather Do"

Bill Amaniera, an EMT at St. Vincent's Hospital on Staten Island, had just poured his morning coffee when he got word that the World Trade Center had been attacked. Without thinking he raced to the hospital.

"I was out of the house in six minutes," he says. "I knew right away it was a terrorist act."

He and a partner got into an a mbulance and sped toward the scene. He says he will never forget the image of the convoy of ambulances heading over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge as thickening smoke billowed from lower Manhattan.

Amaniera says one of the things that stay with him is the absence of patients for him and his fellow EMTs to treat. After the collapse of the towers, covered in soot and ash, Amaniera says he was only able to care for a handful of rescue workers.

"I saw things that day that I'd never seen in all of my 25 years doing this - right in front of me," says Amaniera. "And after the towers fell there was an eerie calm. You could hear a pin drop."

Amaniera says the first days after the attack were the hardest on him and his co-workers. It was hard to comprehend what had really happened, he says.

"Psychologically, people just weren't there," says Amaniera. "But myself and my partner are delegates and we tried to be there for everybody."

In spite of some breathing problems and occasional nightmares Amaniera says that lending his shoulder to others is what helped him get through those first seemingly impossible days - and what continues to help him now.

But the thing that gives him the most strength, he says, is simply being back on the job.

"I get up and I go to work," says Amaniera. "That's my therapy. There are people who are miserable because they have to get up and go to a job they hate. My job will never make me rich, but I love it. And especially now, there's nothing I'd rather do."

Juana LomiJuana Lomi: "More Focused Than Ever"

1199 News last spoke with Juana Lomi just days after Sept. 11. Still shaken and distraught from her experience, Lomi recounted the efforts of her and her partner, Lesandro Rijos, to save as many lives as they could as New York's greatest disaster unfolded around them.

"I hope I never live to see something like that again," she tearfully told a reporter.

Today Juana Lomi has become something of a celebrity. She has been featured on the cover of Latina magazine and in the "Faces of Ground Zero" photo exhibit that was shown in Grand Central Station. Lomi has told her story and the story of hundreds of other rescue workers who battled to save lives Sept. 11 to numerous other magazines and television shows from around the world.

"The publicity doesn't faze me," Lomi says casually. "I've been able to keep doing my work. It's like a form of therapy really. I'm like anybody else. I'm just trying to cope and hang onto what I believe in."

Lomi says one of the ways she has been able to make sense of the world these days is by keeping her life as simple as possible. "I have a lot of faith in God," she says. "I talk with my friends and I spend a lot of time with my family."

She says she's noticed a change in people in general. She says she finds people kinder and more considerate of one another. It's one of the small ways good things have come out of the destruction she and much of the world witnessed Sept. 11. She says she feels it especially at work when taking care of patients.

"People have really changed towards us [paramedics and EMTs]," she says. "They're much nicer. They acknowledge our work more. They're more respectful."

Lomi recently visited ground zero for the first time since Sept. 11. She says it was emotionally trying, but she felt compelled to make the trip.

"It was something tremendous that affected all of us," she says. "Now I've been able to embrace the whole situation. Now I know it's ok to cry."

One of the things that still surprises her, says Lomi, is when people ask why she is still working as a paramedic after what she went through. If anything, Lomi says, that day affirmed her calling.

"I've never had any doubts about what I wanted to be," she says. "Sept. 11 was even more of a confirmation. Now I'm more focused than ever.