By Ted Waddell
NEW YORK CITY/JEFFERSONVILLE October 5, 2001 Tim Mullally doesnt think of himself as a hero, but the thousands of emergency workers welcomed him and his Gators into the fold as they risked their lives at Ground Zero in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
As people ran screaming from the towers before they collapsed, hundreds of NYC firefighters and police officers rushed into the buildings, only to perish in the horror of twisted steel and concrete.
On Americas second encounter with A Day of Infamy, Mullally, who owns Mullally Sales & Rental (the local John Deere dealer on Main Street in Jeffersonville), was talking business with Karl Pittz and Steve Wujcik, John Deere territory managers.
While putting together an equipment order for next spring, Mullally got a phone call from the city. His brother-in-law Thomas Norden said he should turn on his TV a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.
Mullally and the regional reps went next door to Mullallys Pub and flipped on the tube, only to see a plane crash into one of the towers. At first they thought it was a replay, but then they realized it was the second hijacked airplane slamming into Tower Two.
As the day progressed, I was trying to think of how to be helpful, said Mullally. And all of a sudden I thought of these Gators.
A John Deere Gator is a hard-nosed utility vehicle with a reputation of going where others fear to tread. With a 60-inch width, it can negotiate narrow spaces, and with a high-torque motor, the 6x4 (6 wheels and 4-wheel drive) can navigate treacherous terrain.
After a series of phone calls to emergency service agencies, including one to the Governors Office, Mullally started to get frustrated because nobody seemed to know what a Gator was.
According to Mullally, he finally reached an FBI agent who knew something about Gators. Mullally recalled the phone call.
You get ahold of me, and well get them into the right hands, he told Mullally.
Meanwhile, the regional reps (and others) had made arrangements with the John Deere Vehicle Group in Williamsburg, Va., and five Gators were soon on their way to Staten Island. The Gators were transported on a car carrier festooned with American flags.
According to Joan Conrad of the John Deere corporate communications office, calls for company assistance came from other fronts, like Genevieve Baum, an employee of the NJ Office of Maritime Resources. Baum was acting as a volunteer at the WTC site.
She told her father that rescue workers were using golf carts, but the glass and debris were shredding the tires. Baum told her dad something more rugged was needed, and he called John Deere.
I quickly packed and met them down on the Garden State Parkway, said Mullally.
The Gators equipped with run-flat tires, brush and bed guards and heavy-duty air cleaners were unloaded at Glen Millers waterfront oil recovery operation. Miller volunteered the use of his facility during the emergency.
The only way you could get in [to the disaster scene] was by boat to the World Trade Center Marina, added Mullally.
The Gators were hoisted by crane onto a barge and departed at about 6 a.m. Wednesday for the marina.
It was kind of eerie, said Mullally. As we were crossing, the air was full of smoke going by the Statue of Liberty. The weather was bad, and waves were breaking over the front of the ship. It seemed like we were storming the beach.
After arriving at the lower Manhattan waterfront, the Gators were off-loaded from the barge, and Mullally and the reps loaned three of the vehicles to emergency service personnel.
It was a scene of general confusion, he said. We wanted to help, but there was no one to ask, so we just started to do things.
His first impressions of arriving at the site?
It was a mess, he said. It had started to rain, a torrential rain. It was really nasty, and everyone was soaking wet all day.
Mullally accompanied emergency services personnel to Ground Zero through the flooded basement of the American Express Building.
I remember coming up into the area when it was still burning, and they were trying to rescue people, he said. All I could think of was it looked like hell . . . the eerieness of the structures that remained. You couldnt take it all in. Every time you went in there, you would see something else from a different location.
When emergency workers saw what the utility vehicles could do, the call went out for more Gators, and 14 more vehicles were rapidly assembled at the John Deere Welland Works in Welland, Ontario, Canada. By 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 14, a second car carrier was on its way to NYC. With the assistance of the Ontario Provincial Police, the convoy bypassed a 15-mile-long backup at the security-intense border between the U.S. and Canada.
Once the Gators arrived at the Stuyvesant High School staging area, they were distributed to the FDNY, NYPD and the Emergency Service Unit (ESU), a specialized branch of the NYPD. Units were also loaned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), various rescue units and the Missouri Underground, a volunteer rescue unit working with FEMA.
When we got to Ground Zero, and people saw what Gators could do, it was, Send a Gator here, send a Gator there, recalled Mullally of working in the smoking ruins of the Twin Towers.
According to Mullally, they hauled tanks of oxygen and acetylene for the ironworkers cutting apart massive steel girders, and as rescue teams worked their way into the wreckage, sections of the hijacked aircraft, bodies and fragments of human remains were unearthed.
I lost track of time, said Mullally, adding he had been up for 40 hours. The next day, he was joined by his brothers-in-law, Arthur Norden of Callicoon and Thomas Norden of NYC/Callicoon.
They temporarily left the site sometime after midnight on Thursday and drove past the barricades at Canal Street onto the West Side Highway. At that time, a transportation system for emergency workers had not yet been established, so they gave firefighters rides out of the disaster area during the shift change.
There were literally thousands of people [lining both sides of West Side Highway], waving flags and banners, said Mullally. They were running out and hugging us and the firemen. It was pretty emotional. . . . It made the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
He recalled being flagged down by a policeman who asked if he could give an exhausted 80-year old woman a ride back uptown from the disaster zone. She was so moved by the incident that she took a cab downtown from her apartment on W. 90th St. and then walked for blocks to the scene just to say a prayer.
To be continued . . .