Paramedic who retrieved body parts after 9/11 says coronavirus is worse
A New York City paramedic who retrieved body parts after the Sept. 11 attacks said the coronavirus pandemic is an even worse disaster for New York.
“I’d have to says yes, this is worse than the Sept. 11 attacks. Sept. 11 was a tragedy that happened quick,” said Luis Lopez, a paramedic currently assigned to FDNY/EMS Station 50 in Jamaica, Queens — one of the hotspots for COVID-19.
Lopez said what he’s seen responding to 911 calls to save coronavirus patients has been horrifying.
“This is different. This is unsettling. It’s an odd feeling. You think it’s the flu. People are just dropping. It’s like, ‘wow,’ ” said Lopez, 46.
“This virus is very scary. There are unknown symptoms. You don’t know exactly what’s going on. COVID-19 is a silent killer.”
The most unnerving thing is seeing young, strong people die.
“They’re very healthy people. It’s scary,” he said
As a young emergency medical technician, Lopez was scheduled to be off Sept. 11, 2001, but answered the call and ended up helping with logistics at the emergency command center in Brooklyn.
During the aftermath, Lopez did the grim work of digging and sifting through “The Pile” at Ground Zero — trying to find anyone who was still alive.
He then worked for months trying to locate bodies or any remnants of people who died and transported them to the morgue.
“I was down at the pile until the end of January,” he said — four months after the attack.
“The hope we had was that we would find people alive. That didn’t happen. We found body parts. We brought body parts to the medical examiner to get tagged. We found rings, earrings, clothes,” he added.
“It was terrible.”
But, he said, at least with 9/11 “we knew what was going on. It was a terrorist attack.”
The fear afterward was that there would be another attack.
“With this virus,“ Lopez said, “we don’t know what’s going on.”
“Is it more challenging? Absolutely. It’s not knowing what’s going on behind that door.”
He said he and other paramedics are working punishing double shifts because so many of his colleagues are infected or recovering from the virus.
“We’re short-staffed. People are going down because of COVID,” he said.
“Thank God I’m healthy. I commend my wife. The moment I get home all my clothes come off and I go right into the shower.”
Despite the difficulty, he wouldn’t think of doing anything else.
“I love helping people. I have gratitude going house to house. We literally save people’s lives,” Lopez said.
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