They felt connected to the first responders when the towers came down on Sept. 11—so the volunteers at the Martinsville Volunteer Fire Co. decided to help in whatever way they could.
“We felt connected to the firefighters at Ground Zero, and they knew we were there to help,” said Howie van Nostrand, a Bridgewater resident who was the chief of the fire company at the time. “We weren’t just spectators.”
With the help of the community, van Nostrand said, the fire company collected veterinary supplies and other items for the rescue dogs working at Ground Zero. Some materials were donated by Martinsville veterinarian Frank Stoudt, and other materials came from the community itself.
Some of the supplies were fluids for cleaning the dogs’ noses and eyes because they were very impacted by the dust, as well as booties for their paws.
“The community started collecting items, and we ended up joining,” van Nostrand said. “They collected items at the sports club on Frontier Road, and then we picked them up.”
“They decided to collect items, and we decided to take them to New York City,” he added.
Bill Rose, spokesman for the Martinsville Volunteer Fire Co., said residents were very quick to help out.
“We were using a utility pick-up truck and there was a number of people throwing stuff into the back to be delivered,” he said. “It was boxes of shoes, kneepads and gloves to give back to people.”
“We also had people donating that first weekend, like water, gloves, knee pads, dust masks and the basics for dogs,” he added.
From there, van Nostrand said, the firefighters brought supplies to the Javitz Center in New York City, and then down to Ground Zero.
“It was a group effort because everyone was frustrated and didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Being at the site itself, van Nostrand said, was devastating as the firefighters got a good look at the debris and destruction near Ground Zero.
“There was nothing but powder,” he said. “You would think you see a bunch of newspapers and papers, but there was nothing but powder, nothing but dust. Clouds of dust and smoke.”
Van Nostrand, who worked at the refinery in Bayonne at the time, said he could see everything happening as the attacks took place.
“We could see the towers burning,” he said. “It’s something you don’t really think about or talk about.”
“And where I was working at the time, I could see the towers burning from Patterson, and it was very uncomfortable,” Rose added. “There was a lot of anger, rage and frustration, and I think a lot of people shared that emotion.”
Rose said there were several employees who came out of the Bronx for work and couldn’t get back later.
“They were frustrated because initially everything shut down for the city,” he said. “Some were very concerned about how they were going to get back to their babysitters to get their kids.”
When the firefighters arrived at Ground Zero with the donated supplies, van Nostrand said, it was easy to get in to the site because they had a truck with red lights indicating they were firefighters.
“We didn’t have to worry about traffic because there was none, but the rescue workers were happy to see us, and they opened the firehouses to us,” he said.
“We felt connected to the firefighters, and they knew we were there to help, not just spectators,” he added.
Van Nostrand said the firefighters brought items from Bridgewater two days in a row, doing what they could to help out.
“That’s why we’re volunteers,” he said. “My grandfather was a volunteer firefighter, my relatives were volunteer rescue workers. There’s a lot of family that volunteered, and it’s a family tradition to be a volunteer.”
Rose said that those items not needed by the volunteers at Ground Zero were donated to local shelters, like the Somerset County Animal Shelter, on Commons Way.
“The volunteers in New York City didn’t need all of it because they had enough stuff,” he said.
Rose said he remembers one woman specifically who came to the firehouse as they were shutting down the donations and preparing to bring the items to New York City.
“This elderly woman came in, and she said she had some bottled water for us,” he said. “She said she felt she had to do something, the family lost their grandson in the towers.”
“She donated 12 one-gallon jugs of water,” he added.
A week after the first donations ended, Rose said, they held another drive, and, with the help of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, raised in excess of $17,000 for New York City firefighters, and their widows and children.
Rose said the firefighters were proud of the contributions they made to the rescue workers, with some going back and forth to the Javitz Center and other areas.
And for six months after, Rose said, they all noticed that people would hold the volunteers on a pedestal.
“People would stop them in the streets to thank them, which, honestly, 10 years later has gone away,” he said. “But there was an understanding that the world had changed, and an uncertainty of what that meant.”
*Leading up to Sept. 11, Bridgewater Patch will examine 9/11's impact on the community and how lives have changed, and reflect on those who died in the attacks 10 years ago.
Friday—The police department discusses how its training has changed since Sept. 11.
Saturday—County residents speak about how Sept. 11 changed their lives.
Sunday—We cover local and county Sept. 11 memorials.
In case you missed it:
Thursday—We looked at a photo that we thought was representative of the feelings of Americans today.
Friday—We remembered those residents who died in the attacks.
Saturday—We presented photos of the Twin Towers taken by residents.
Sunday—Former Bridgewater resident John Kazan talked about what it was like in New York City on Sept. 11.
Monday—Bridgewater-Raritan High School seniors spoke about what they remember of Sept. 11, when they were only in second grade.
Tuesday—The school district discussed how it teaches Sept. 11 to seventh through 12th graders.
Wednesday—Bridgewater resident Jim Murray shares photos of 9/11 as he watched the attacks from afar.