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COP TALES: I'll never forget that sound

Cop Tales are true stories as told by law enforcement officers from all over the country. The stories are told in the first person. The actual officer’s initials follow each story.

I’ll never forget that sound

A Personal Alert Safety System (P.A.S.S.) is an automatic distress signal that is used by firefighters entering hazardous or dangerous environments such as a burning building. The PASS will sound a loud, audible alert to notify others in the area that a firefighter is in distress.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I worked for the New York Police Department and was at home when the Twin Towers were attacked. I immediately went to the scene. When I arrived, the fire department was pouring water into the smoldering pile. The whole time I was there, the only thing I could hear were loud noises that sounded like hundreds of crickets. I asked one of the firefighters what those noises were. He told me they were alerts from numerous P.A.S.S. devices. I will never forget that sound.

- RA

Ground Zero

As a captain for the New York City Police Department), I was scheduled to work from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. That morning, my 1-year-old daughter had woken up, so I fed her before she dozed off on my chest. I was lying on the couch, so I turned down the TV and let a phone call go to the answering machine.

As it did, I could hear that it was one of my officers calling and that he was excited. I figured he was calling about an accident or something similar. Then I heard my wife get out of bed, so I began to sit up. I looked at the TV and saw that the first tower was burning. I handed my daughter to my wife and went to get dressed when I heard her yell out. The second tower had been hit.

I drove as fast as possible to my base, got organized, and we convoyed to Manhattan. The radio frequencies were overloaded and sometimes down altogether. We heard officers who were trapped calling for help. I stopped at the Midtown Tunnel and used the MTA police landline to call Operations, who assigned my unit to the mobilization point at Trinity and Broadway. I had three sergeants and 37 officers with me that day. I will never forget the numbers because I kept counting all day to make sure I accounted for everyone.

We moved around the site, but walking was like being on the moon. The dust was ankle-deep or higher and continued to come down. We were eventually covered from head to toe. At one point near Ground Zero, I met up with a friend. I asked him if the reason I couldn't see the buildings was due to the smoke. He told me the towers were gone. That day was the only time in my police career that I received the order to "run away." 7 World Trade was coming down and we were in the zone.

I didn't get a taste of civilization for several days working down there. I was home long enough to take a shower, catch a couple of hours of sleep and go back to work. One day, I ended up in an overhead command office and I had a chance to read a couple of the newspapers. Believe it or not, it was then that I realized how big the event was to the rest of the world. We lost 23 officers that day. However, we have now lost more officers since that day from cancer due to 9/11.

- TH

Brian Smith served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and retired as an assistant chief with the California Highway Patrol. He resides in Bakersfield. If you have a personal “Cop Tale” to share, please contact Smith at