Lawrence Township dedicates first responders memorial


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Dean Acquaviva and Ken Kandrac have vivid memories of their efforts to help in the hours after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that flattened the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York City – the smells and the noise and the piles of rubble that had once been part of the landmark buildings.

The two men, who volunteered with the Lawrence Township First Aid Squad, shared some of those memories with attendees at the dedication ceremony for the new Lawrence Township First Responders 9/11 Memorial Park on the morning of Sept. 11.

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The memorial park is on Pilla Avenue, opposite the Lawrence Township Emergency Medical Services headquarters, and the home of the former volunteer first aid squad.

The park commemorates the contributions of Acquaviva, Kandrac, David Miele and Sue Fabian, who climbed into the Lawrence Township First Aid Squad’s heavy rescue truck and headed toward New York City in what they thought would be a rescue effort.

“I felt like anything but a hero,” Acquaviva told the attendees, recalling his arrival at Ground Zero at about 11:30 p.m. The volunteer emergency medical technicians had arrived at Jersey City earlier in the day and had set up a triage area for the victims they expected would be arriving there. But there were no survivors to treat.

When Acquaviva was escorted to The Pile – the name that was bestowed on the mounds of debris – several hours later after they arrived, he said he was overcome by emotion. Volunteers were sifting through the rubble that had been a proud monument to commerce that morning.

There was the smell of fires burning, and the noise from generators that provided power for the lights. There were tangles of hoses, the crackle of first responders’ radios and a make-shift morgue for the bodies that had been recovered.

“It was a completely surreal atmosphere,” Acquaviva said. “Buildings were covered with pictures of the missing and it drove home the real cost of the attacks. (But) it made me proud to come in the hour of need.”

The volunteers returned to Lawrence the next day and when he got home, Acquaviva said, “the grass was greener and life in general was more precious, but more precarious. It might topple over like those once invincible buildings.”

Kandrac, who had recently retired as a career firefighter and battalion chief with the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Department, said that at one point during their stay, he took a boat ride across the Hudson River to deliver body bags.

When he arrived, Kandrac said, he saw one of the buildings was still on fire. He noticed a fire truck that had been flattened by falling debris. Rescuers were in the process of recovering a firefighter’s body, he said.

In their remarks, Mayor Christopher Bobbitt and Councilman David Maffei thanked the volunteers.

Maffei thanked the volunteers for their caring and said the memorial park is now part of Lawrence Township’s history. He said he was thankful no one from Lawrence Township died in the attacks.

Bobbitt thanked the Lawrence Township First Aid Squad trustees – Marie Tagliaferri, Acquaviva and Kandrac – for their efforts to establish the memorial park.

Bobbitt also reminded the attendees that Sept. 10, 2001 was the last normal day for many people. They went to bed, got up the next morning, took their children to school and went to work.

“It was just a regular old day,” he said of Sept. 11, yet it turned into something profound, alluding to the attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania.

The mayor praised the emergency medical technicians who responded to the calls for help on Sept. 11. They were normal people, doing their jobs and trying to be the best they could be.

Wrapping up the ceremony, Acquaviva, Kandrac and Acting Chief of Police Brian Caloiaro placed a wreath at the stone monument, which is capped by a small piece of steel from the World Trade Center.

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