As the planet's population reminisces and introspects the dastardly deeds perpetrated upon America by a cowardly personification of hatred and misguided principles, a noteworthy aspect carries on: Police officers from the NYPD were among a post-9/11 diaspora, relocating to other jurisdictions in our nation. Notwithstanding the horrific scenery and scarring life experiences, these surviving cops continue to serve the public, several in Tampa Bay, Fla.
Among the myriad public servants slain during that fateful Tuesday morning in New York City on 09/11/01, some police colleagues survived to continue the battle against evil entities, many of whom were specifically assigned to Ground Zero to sift through the rubble.
Those same police survivors remained with the New York City Police Department (NYPD)...until each deemed a change of environment was warranted.
Given the inexplicable nature of what each of these police survivors confronted, it serves sufficiently to maintain well-being as best possible, even if harbored in another place and time.
Clandestine living was ruled out; carrying on the fight for justice was exercised.
Tampa Bay, Fla., is fortunate to have among its law enforcement community a handful of former NYPD cops. Two particular cops relocated to Tampa Bay within months of each other. Both of these policemen knew each other well, given that they were colleagues on the NYPD force well before 9/11.
Each of these policemen worked elbow-to-elbow at Ground Zero, in horrific and unspeakable fashion. Assigned the definably grotesque but necessary task of aggregating body parts as part of a tedious and gargantuan evidence-gathering, forensic, pathologic effort, these cops exuded virtues often bandied about in philosophical discussions.
As the world's largest municipal police force, the NYPD had every single one of its many divisions' and special units' personnel on duty in efforts to somehow corral utter chaos, imposed by maniacal deviants, and exhibit the iconoclastic symbolism of New York's strength and vigor. Historically, in times of severe adversity, New York City remains a forerunner with respect to resiliency and regenerative diligence.
Training, intuition, determination, perseverance and survival instincts had to parlay into dividends so as to ward off further casualty. NYPD cops exhibited unsurpassed valor.
Inexplicably, their personal and professional experiences, the stories they share, will render any listener a bewildered soul.
Former NYPD cop, Carlos Lopez, now a patrol sergeant with the Temple Terrace Police Department in Temple Terrace, Fla., recounted: "It was eerie...digging through all kinds of concrete pieces, re-bar, dust all over the place and then...you know, body parts!" Unimaginable yet necessary indeed; a part of duty, however macabre.
"I'll never forget that awful experience!" Sgt. Lopez added, "Never would I've imagined having to collect body parts. It took so long to do because of all the destruction, having to carefully sort things."
Another former NYPD cop, Manny Santana, also joined the Temple Terrace police force after Sgt. Lopez did months prior. Since Police Officer Santana relocated to Tampa Bay and joined TTPD, sharing his story with heavy-hearted recall. Santana has since effected another life change and joined the neighboring Tampa Police Department (TPD).
Officer Santana said "it was the most humbling experience of my life!" Inasmuch such a finitely unique and unfathomable event does not necessarily have any particular training attributed to it, lessons were adopted along the undeniably horrid journey. "It's not the way I would've wanted it, you know, but it certainly made me realize even more how quick life can change. New York gets its share of crazy...but not like that!"
Both Sergeant Lopez and Police Officer Santana remain on duty with their respective law enforcement agencies. The benefits, however awry in derivation, lend handsomely to teaching, training, and indoctrinating the sacredness of life, especially as it relates to other lesser-experienced cops.
With learned emphasis can Lopez and Santana impart to younger cops-- any cops who are attentive enough, for that matter-- how swiftly situations can alter, often far worse than expected and/or initially informed by police dispatchers.
As guiding beacons for younger police officers and those training in police academies, countless stories are chock-full of lessons. These survivors are real-life examples among us, contributing knowledge derived from otherwise-awful events.
It is this quantified and qualified caliber of policemen who will instill the requisite backdrop for the potentiality of loss in law enforcement, whether civilian lives and/or those of public safety professionals sworn to an oath of self-sacrifice. In that same light, the preparatory modes Lopez and Santana impart to other police lives plausibly serve as indoctrination, as testament indicative of how loosely lives hang in the balance at times.
No cop --no person on the planet-- can conceive of each and every peril out among society, yet implementation of the hardcore knowledge base Lopez and Santana bring to the table facilitates realistic measures so as to stave off unspeakable casualties.
An often harped-on element of any police academy instruction is preparation, yet not to the extent of a 9/11-type incident. Suffice it to say, precedent was recorded.
Similar and relative, more precedence was recorded when the 9-11 Memorial and Museum buildings opened their doors to the public. Availed on display are twisted hulks of steel beams, battered FDNY fire engines and NYPD police cruisers, and all manner of iconoclastic 9/11 accoutrements, large and small.
Albeit palpable dangers exist in law enforcement, equally relative is the quantity of experience to enable police officer survivability ratios.
Lopez casts his prior experience, specifically as it relates to his last command as a NYPD cop in the 40th Precinct, his last command edifice from where he was assigned to Ground Zero. Memorably, Lopez considers his personal endurance through the countless hours spent at Ground Zero, the lessons he took away from it all, enabling the ability to cater to younger officers under his supervision.
Lopez brought to Florida vast stores of police knowledge and experiential tenets, readily and amply furnished to the officers among the squad he commands in Temple Terrace.
Officer Santana vividly and poignantly recalls what may have potentially been his final thought: "Tell my daughter that daddy only thought of her and wanted to be there when she arrived."
Officer Santana echoed, "She helped me survive the entire event 12 years ago."
Santana's daughter to whom he refers was born into the world a few months later; he survived to welcome her on 28 December 2001.
Santana's "beautiful girl", Kristine Santana, was able to realize the loving presence of her father, a policeman who knew well the demented entities roaming among society, and showed it by a soulfully caring embrace upon her birth.
Each of these two stellar police officers embody fortitude, evince dedication to duty, and exude character traits neither an academy nor school can instill.
Reality-based teachings are golden lessons each has to impart to younger, novice cops. Moreover, there exists credence to the notion that even police veterans can glean something new from Sergeant Lopez and Officer Santana.
Refraining from myopic views, no matter ones status in life, Lopez and Santana have offered wisdom to countless citizens in myriad ways...sagely spawned at a plot we somberly yet respectfully know as Ground Zero.
Today, two post-9/11 police survivors serve the public in Tampa Bay, Fla.
Also today, two monumental, mirrored structures, where NYPD cops sifted feverishly amidst mind-boggling ruin and cavernous real estate, stand as rebuilt marvels of architecture personifying the American will to bounce back even stronger.
If both Sergeant Lopez and Officer Santana were to stand before either of the 9/11 Memorial or Museum edifices, the mirrored reflections will depict two sagacious police warriors, still donning police-blue attire and attendant pride in badge-wearing, forging on.
(It is with distinct dignity and honor that this author served with both of these key figures in the Tampa Bay law enforcement community).
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