Lower Manhattan has a new line of defense against tragedies and disasters, ranging from medical emergencies in an individual home to mass casualty events.
On December 19, the Resident Manager Emergency Response Team (RMERT) program graduated its first class, consisting of more than 40 building staff, concerned residents, and community leaders. RMERT is, in some ways, an extension of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program that took root in Battery Park City, Tribeca, and the Financial District in the years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
But RMERT certification involves 15 weeks of more in-depth, hands-on training in minutely specific areas of focus like High Rise Search and Rescue, Building Risk, Active Shooters, Terrorism, and Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) — the precursor to the more widely known Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. ASD unfolds in real time, often incapacitating victims or bystanders at the moment when their cooperation is most needed by rescue workers (during an evacuation, for example).
The graduation ceremony, held within the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, was opened by Interfaith Minister Louis A. Oliveri (a survivor of the September 11 attacks), who recalled, “I was in the north tower of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. And tonight is the first time I have walked these grounds.” Reflecting on the mission of RMERT, Reverend Oliveri spoke of, “our continuous search to live lives that benefit our fellow human beings.”
Luis Rivera, a building manager on Central Park West, recalled, “during working hours, I got a phone call from one of my guys, who said there was a woman on the fourth floor, not breathing. I ran up, and found her daughter standing above her, trying to call 911, but already panicking. The woman was completely blue.”
Using skills acquired in his emergency-response training, Mr. Rivera recalled, “I immediately started to give her mouth to mouth and pump her chest. As I kept pushing, I could see color returning to her face, and she started to breathe on her own. I was literally breathing life back into this woman.” He continued, “I was able to keep her alive for ten, maybe 12 minutes, until the ambulance crew arrived, and they took over. As they were leaving, the medical technicians asked the woman’s daughter, ‘who is that guy?’ And she told them, ‘he’s our resident manager.’ To this day, I get a postcard from that woman once a year, saying, ‘thank you, Luis, for my second life.'”
Being on the receiving end of a heroic rescue was described by Battery Park City resident Joe Gibney, who teaches RMERT trainees a course in, “How to Rescue and Evacuate People with Disabilities.” Mr. Gibney reflected that, “nothing in my background, education or professional career qualifies me to speak with you about search and rescue, but for the fact that I survived in two terrorist attacks in a wheel chair.”
During the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Mr. Gibney, who worked at the time as an attorney for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, located high in the south tower of the Trade Center. As smoke from the explosion filled the stairwells, he recalled, a colleague named Jack Litevsky carried him down 38 flights of stairs. During the 2001 attack, Mr. Gibney recalled being stranded in his Battery Park City home, underscoring the need for specialized plans to evacuate handicapped residents during emergencies.
The event’s keynote speaker was Benjamin Tucker, first deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department, who began, “listening to Joe tell his inspiring story tells you about New Yorkers and the strength we have, even with obstacles in our way.”
Commissioner Tucker (who also lives in Battery Park City) invoked themes sounds by Reverend Oliveri and Mr. Gibney when he told the RMERT graduates, “the work that you’re going to be doing is about inspiration, but also about how do we help each other. The notion that policing is a profession that only police are engaged in is false. This is about shared responsibility. We in the Police Department don’t get anything done without the help of the communities of this City. Because we are all in this together.”