GROUND ZERO

October 16, 2001 11:00 pm
NIGHT SCENE: Firefighters douse hot spots at the World Trade Center. (Mike Brouwer photo).
NIGHT SCENE: Firefighters douse hot spots at the World Trade Center. (Mike Brouwer photo).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

We hadnt done anything, and they cheered.

As Mike Brouwer talked about his 14 days at Ground Zero, his voice caught, and he stopped speaking for a few minutes.

The response of the people of New York to the firefighters and other volunteers almost overwhelmed the La Grande man who was assigned to help the rescue effort.

Before they began working, Brouwer and the others on his Forest Service team rode in golf carts on a tour of the destroyed World Trade Center. It was then that he got his first look at the overwhelming love and respect New Yorkers feel for the workers at Ground Zero.

A man came up to the people riding in the cart in front of us and asked to take a picture of his son with them, he said. They cheered as we went to Ground Zero.

What a huge impact. I was pretty stunned.

The gratitude of New Yorkers continued to impress Brouwer.

It kept happening over and over, in little ways and big ways, he said. Everybody felt we wanted to help; people kept saying, Thank you, thank you. That was big.

Brouwer and others from across the nation were part of a firefighting team that usually is assigned to forest fires.

He spoke about the two weeks he worked amid the smoke, debris and the horror of the World Trade Center that was once a symbol of the wonders of Manhattan.

Its always burning some nights more than others.

A lot of these guys (volunteers) hadnt been down there; they were coming in brand new, and were in shock. One police officer just kept shaking his head; he was still in grief, Brouwer said.

During the quiet hours of his nights on duty, Brouwer walked around the blast zone.

Sometimes it was hard to take pictures. Id say, Why am I doing this? Or Id think, This is so huge in our history, and Im here.

See Brouwers story, Portraits