“I couldn’t help but feel like there was something I needed to do to help.”
October 30, 2022
“I remember the morning of, I was sitting down with Jenna (Kal’s baby daughter) watching Barney at the time. Everything seemed like a normal morning.” says Nassar. “I got a call from another officer, asking me if I was watching TV, they told me to turn on the news immediately,” he recalled. When Nassar flipped the channel to the news, the second plane crashed into the tower, he said “I was unaware the first plane hit. It was shocking.”
Nassar wasted no time in his call to help. Nassar took his baby daughter to her mother’s house, then went to get himself prepared to get called down to help at the site of the attack. “The call from work eventually came around 11 AM. We were all called to the 1st Precinct, and from there, most of the unit went down to Ground Zero.”
“I was nervous but I knew that I had to go. I had no choice in the matter, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something I needed to do to help,” Nassar said, adding “and it felt very helpless when we got down there.” Nassar bravely helped in the best way possible.
Nassar, a long-time cornerstone of the Yonkers police department, serving more than 25 years in Yonkers across various roles, recalls that on the day of the attacks, they were not allowed to go on the pile since the fires were burning from the attacks. “Those fires were burning for months, but that initial day, we could not go on the pile because it was so hot. So we stayed and helped out with other things, such as buildings that needed to be evacuated. There were old- age homes down the block that we had to escort out of the area,” says Nassar.
It was not until the third day, September 13, 2001, after the attacks that first responders were allowed on top of the pile, Nassar says. “We spent all day on top of the pile moving rubble, trying to find people to rescue. After a while it became clear that it was no longer a rescue, but it was a recovery. It was tough, it was tough.”
Amid the chaos of the surreal morning, Nassar recalls the sights he saw vividly, to this day. “The damage to the buildings surrounding the tower was surreal. There were airplane parts in adjacent buildings, there was landing gear in the middle of the road. On top of the pile, you were able to see openings, 15 to 20 stories down, police cars, ambulances and firetrucks were all under the rubble when the buildings collapsed,” he said.
“Our purpose was to go down there and help. We tried our best. Some of our guys got sick and passed away from their illnesses. Lieutenant McLaughlin who worked with us passed away about two years ago from brain cancer that was attributed to the attacks,” said Nassar, adding“2,500 people died that day, but thousands more have since passed away, it’s tragic.” Nassar said he still lives with these horrific memories. “Do I still think about it every once in a while? Yeah, I do. Is it horrible to think about? Yeah but you can’t help it. Half of the stuff we saw is unspeakable.
When 9/11 happened the whole country came together to help each other, regardless of who you were.” he said. “I still fear attacks to this day, but I know there are people who work their hardest in order to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Nassar was invited with a group of first responders to see the memorial before it was opened to the public. Recalling that memory was difficult. “I was not able to stay through the entire exhibit. I really did not want to see it all,” He said. “There were certain rooms with audio, people calling their families for the last time, it was so hard to hear, I couldn’t sit through that.” Nassar has not been back to the memorial since. Nassar says “I think that they did a beautiful job with Ground Zero. Everyone’s names are there, it is a prime area. They did the right thing, they memorialized what happened there. It is forever hallowed ground.”
And although the attacks are now two decades in the past, Nassar still has illnesses he deals with, as do many other first responders. “Once in a while, I get some breathing issues, the GERD (acid reflux). Many try to get me to go down to the city and get it checked out, but I have never actually had a full checkup done,” he said, “Do I wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares, once in a while, but a lot of the guys have had it a lot worse than me, that’s why I have tended to not be so concerned about it, I am thankful I did not suffer a lot of the ailments other guys have.” Nassar recognizes that there are the resources to help him at Mount Sinai hospital. “I know it is not wise of me to not seek help, but maybe one day I will do it,” he said.
Although 9/11 is now 20 years in the past, the memories and influence of the attacks still live on to this day. The sacrifices made by first responders like Nassar were essential in this country’s rebuilding and should forever be remembered. Amidst the chaos of the morning, selflessly, Nassar and other first responders were there for who needed them most.