A Helping Hand

“I went in to do what I could do,” said Terence McConlogue ’83, who thought on the day after the collapse of the World Trade Center that the rescue personnel would need counsel and found that a more immediate need was diggers.

McConlogue, 41, who lives in Easton, is a psychologist who has worked for the New Jersey Department of Corrections. Though he now works at Valley Youth House, where he counsels at-risk students, he’s still got friends from his law-enforcement days. “And we knew as soon as we saw the buildings come down,” he said, “that the police and fire guys were going to take a pretty big hit.”

In the wake of the terrorist attacks, with almost all the city’s emergency manpower involved in the rescue operations at the World Trade Center, New York authorities sent out an urgent call for assistance to law-enforcement personnel in New Jersey. “They needed people to direct traffic, to provide assistance in support services,” McConlogue said. “They needed all the help they could get.”

On Wednesday, September 12, he went into New York City with a group of friends from the corrections department to see what help they could give.

“They were trying to move mass amounts of rubble,” he said of the rescue workers at the devastated site. So he picked up a shovel and joined them. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 220 pounds, “I’m a big strong guy,” he said.

Nevertheless, it was backbreaking work—though the physical strain was nothing compared to the emotional toll, McConlogue said. “On Wednesday, we were hoping to find survivors. You hold out a hope of finding even one person alive.

“But when you looked at the enormity of the devastation,” he continued, “you realized that the odds of finding someone were astronomical.”

For a while, false alarms raised everyone’s expectations. Rescue workers carry beepers so they can be located in case they’re trapped or injured. In video footage of the first hours of the World Trade Center collapse, the beepers sound like a chorus of insects in lower Manhattan’s concrete canyons.

“When we heard them, everything would stop, and everyone would zero in on where the sound was coming from,” McConlogue said. But most of the alarms, it turned out, were tolling for the dead.

“On Thursday, we found five firemen who had fallen earlier,” McConlogue said. “But we found no one who was alive.”

He hauled wreckage through Saturday, September 15, and was able to document some of the devastation in the pictures you see on this page.

The next week, he went back into the city, to the Family Center at the Armory, which was the locus for people trying to find relatives and friends.

“Ground Zero was bad,” McConlogue said, “but everyone there had a real sense of purpose and focus, of working on a task. At the Family Center, there was an unbelievable sense of anguish, as they waited for people you knew they were never going to see again.

“There were so many of them—people holding out pictures and saying: ‘He worked on the 100-and-something floor.’ They were still holding out hope, and who are you to say, ‘Don’t hope’ ”?

McConlogue found himself working less with relatives of the victims than with the grief counselors, trying to comfort them. “They’re tackling this enormous task, and they need to vent as well,” he said. “In grief counseling, you know you can’t reverse what happened. You can establish closure and get on with your life. But a lot of these folks [the relatives at the Family Center] are never going to get it”—to accept that their loved ones are gone.

After the second week, McConlogue said, the volunteer rescue crews were relieved by private contractors, hired by the city to continue the work of excavation and disposal. The reason was that the volunteers, though they labored with a will, were more injury-prone than trained rescue workers, said McConlogue, who sustained a burn on one arm.

How does he feel about the whole experience? “I really don’t know,” he said slowly. “It’s mixed. To see it was unbelievable. But there are some things that human beings just shouldn’t see.”

Terence McConlogue '83

Firefighters survey the crushed vehicles of some of the first emergency teams to reach the World Trade Center. Their personnel are among the missing.

The area known as the "pipe organ," where a large section of the tower fell with such force that it became embedded in the street.
Photos:Terence McConlogue '83