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Attack on American: Scenes from Western Pa.

Saturday, September 15, 2001

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

'This is what we do'

Bob Rajsky, a paramedic from upstate New York, was in a hurry yesterday morning.

He'd just gotten a call from his bosses in Elmira to leave a conference on paramedics' education in Pittsburgh and head immediately to "ground zero," the base of rescue operations near the wreckage of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.

The 41-year-old medic supervisor and teacher said he'd rented a car and was leaving on an eight-hour drive to New York City. He has to report for his first shift at 3 p.m. today. Once there, he will supervise a group that will relieve medics who have been working round-the-clock since the disaster.

"It'll be 12 hours on and 12 hours off," said Rajsky.

"Everybody [in emergency medicine] wants to help. You want to be there. This is what we do. When I got the call, I knew I had to do my part."

Dr. David Markenson, head of the trauma unit at St. Vincent Hospital in Manhattan, had arrived here Sunday for preconvention activities, but cut things short Wednesday to get back home. Dr. Markenson's specialty is teaching paramedics how to handle head injuries, hemorrhaging and other serious injuries from accidents or explosions.

Also leaving was New York City paramedic and educator Paul Werfel, who drove back in a rental car.

"Several of his friends from the emergency medical service are missing. These are people he's worked shoulder-to-shoulder with," said Joann Freel, director of the National Association of EMS Educators headquartered in Carnegie.

Judith Ruple, president of the association, said greater attention is needed to be given to the psychological and physical stresses placed on medical personnel who respond to accidents and acts of terrorism.

Reservists called up

The only Pennsylvania military reservists to be called up so far in the wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are 15 members of the ports mortuary section of the services squadron of the Coraopolis-based 911th Military Airlift Wing.

The Air Force reservists left yesterday morning by car for Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they will help identify remains of service members killed at the Pentagon.

Old Glory rush

The busiest place in the Westmoreland County Courthouse complex yesterday was the Veterans Affairs office, where more than 2,000 American flags were passed out to government workers and visitors anxious to demonstrate their patriotism.

Workers in the office said they were astounded by the unprecedented number of requests.

Sue Topolnitski has worked in the office for 32 years and has never seen so many flags distributed in a single day.

Ordinarily, the flags are given to veterans' groups and families who use them to decorate veterans' graves, said Joseph Garsteck, Westmoreland Veterans Affairs director.

"Word got out that I had some flags," Garsteck said. "You couldn't buy them anyplace, so people came here."

Many stores had run out.

Garsteck said he was prepared for the rush because by chance he had ordered an extra supply of flags for this year after he exhausted his supply last year. So when the courthouse reopens at 8:30 a.m. Monday, his staff will be ready to hand out more flags to anyone who comes in and asks for them.

Moment of silence

Last night at 7, Tom Jones of Irwin, manager of the Starbucks at the turnpike's Somerset Plaza, five miles from the Flight 93 crash site, asked those in the building to take a moment to remember the loss of life and the shattered hopes and dreams of those on the airplane. Noting that he has a daughter in Manhattan and a son in Washington, D.C., he said it was "almost unbelievable" that the third component of the terrorists' plan ended in Somerset County.

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