Many New Yorkers were impressed by the unity and support felt after the September 11th terror attacks, including one retired police lieutenant who has made it his mission to assist victims of natural disasters in our country and abroad. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Bill Keegan and his emergency response volunteers have traveled across the country for years, helping victims of Hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Katrina.
"We can look people in the eye and tell them we know what they’re going through -- not just from a responder’s point of view, but clearly from a victim’s point of view," Keegan said.
Keegan is a retired Port Authority Police lieutenant. He was a victim because he experienced the 9/11 terrorist attacks firsthand. He lost 37 colleagues and spent nine months assisting in the recovery operations at Ground Zero. In 2007, Keegan created the 9/11 Healing Emergency Aid Response Team, or H.E.A.R.T. 9/11.
"We saw other disasters and we said we do that work so well, why not take that forward on a volunteer basis, what we used to do for pay,” Keegan said.
Now, more than 500 volunteers take part in disaster response missions through H.E.A.R.T. 9/11. Many are retired police officers, firefighters and construction workers who labored at the World Trade Center site on or after 9/11. The group’s latest work has been in Haiti.
“We responded with 25 within five days of the earthquake. We were helping with makeshift hospitals, recovering victims," Keegan said.
H.E.A.R.T. 9/11 has returned to Haiti nine more times, helping to rebuild hundreds of houses, health clinics, schools and even an orphanage.
Chaz Rynkiewicz is a construction worker and organizer at Laborers Local 79. He keeps going back.
“When we go down there, it’s good to get a good day’s sweat in. And these people are getting houses out of it. They’re getting their lives back," Rynkiewicz said.
The volunteers say they benefit from the experiences, as well.
“It’s a mission to go in and rescue people, but it’s also a mission to help yourself. It’s missionary work," Rynkiewicz said.
The group will return to Haiti in two weeks to continue rebuilding efforts. They also hope to arrange a trip to Alabama, devastated this week by tornadoes.