At ground zero: former Truckee resident works in NYC
Former Truckee resident David Baldwin was on a plane to New York City before he even saw the footage on TV.
“Once we get the call, we have six hours to be in the air,” Baldwin said. “We got the call around 10:30 a.m. and were ‘wheels up’ by 3:30 p.m.”
The call, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was for the Sacramento Urban Search and Rescue team to respond to the disaster at the World Trade Center in New York.
Baldwin, 37, a 1982 Tahoe-Truckee High School graduate, is an 8-year veteran of Sacramento City Fire Department and a member of the Urban Search and Rescue Squad. That team was one of three crews from California that went to New York to assist in rescue efforts.
While orders from the Federal Aviation Administration had grounded all flights that morning, Baldwin’s squad flew by military aircraft from Travis AFB in Fairfield to New Jersey.
By early Wednesday, Sept. 12, Baldwin and the rest of the rescue team were “on the pile,” working side-by-side with the Fire Department of New York City.
“We performed reconnaissance, we tunneled through debris and basically did whatever FDNY asked us to do,” Baldwin said. “The hardest thing to deal with was knowing your brothers were still in the building and missing.”
The 64-member Sacramento Search and Rescue divided into two groups and proceeded to work alternating 12-hour shifts for the next 10 days. But motivation was never a problem.
“The thing that made the greatest impression on me was the dedication of FDNY,” Baldwin said.
“They would work 12 and 14-hour shifts, and when the guys got off, they would go over to the pile and work another 10 or 12 hours. They weren’t quitting. They are probably still out there right now.”
The Sacramento Urban Search and Rescue team was also sent to Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Alfred E. Murrah building in 1995.
Baldwin said that scene paled in comparison to the World Trade Center.
“We thought Oklahoma was bad. We thought ‘It couldn’t get any worse.’ But Oklahoma City was nothing,” he said. “Here you had two 100-story buildings. But there were no office chairs or desks or anything that resembled an office building.”
Baldwin, who spent 10 days at the site, said he could not pause to consider the cause and reactions to the attack.
“You don’t have time to think about that you are 100 percent focused on the job. In ten days, we saw maybe 20 minutes of news.”
Baldwin lives in Sacramento, but still volunteers with the Donner Summit Fire Department.