From Former NYC Law Enforcement, Now NICB Retired and Current Field Staff
By Josh Cahill, Interviewed by Ashleigh Faulhaber
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the horrific September 11 attacks. Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives—among those were more than 400 brave first responders, who ran toward certain danger in a valiant effort to save whoever they could.
As the dust settled and the smoke cleared, stunned Americans across the country were inspired and comforted by footage of the brave police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders working tirelessly to make sense of the destruction.
Among those with boots on the ground taking part in the relief efforts were NICB Northeast Regional Director Kevin Gallagher and Ed Carlson, a retired supervisory special agent in the Northeast Region, who were both with the New York City Police Department during 9/11.
We asked them to recall their memories of that fateful day and how they are coping today with what they witnessed during their response.
Ashleigh Faulhaber: Thank you both for being here today. I want to start by asking what your positions were at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
Kevin: I was a sergeant in the New York City Police Department, working in Organized Crime Control Bureau in the Auto Crime Division.
Ed: I was also a sergeant working in the Auto Crime Division of the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau in 2001.
AF: What were your day-to-day duties like pre-attack?
K: My duties focused on complex auto theft investigations, which included undercover and sting operations and working to reduce the auto theft with organized groups.
E: I supervised detectives in the auto crime division and at the time of the attack, I was working a major case involving a chop shop in Brooklyn that was cutting up high-end vehicles.
AF: How did you hear about the first crash into the Twin Towers, and what was your reaction?
E: One of the owners of the chop shop I was investigating, and his son, had just surrendered to us when somebody said that the towers were hit by a plane. We saw the news clips of the first plane hitting the tower on TV, and I called my lieutenant to tell him I was going to go down to the towers, but he ordered me to get back to Queens and supervise the detectives there. I credit him with saving my life.
K: That morning I was at home, I got a phone call from my mother and she said a plane crashed into one of the towers. As soon as I turned the TV on, I saw the second plane come in. At that point, I said to my mother, "I gotta go to work."
AF: What was the day like after the attack, and what was your experience participating in relief efforts?
K: Surreal. It was a beautiful, bright, sunny day, but near where the towers went down, it was like it was night out. There were survivors huddled around buildings crying. People racing, running from the scene. It felt like being on a movie set.
E: One thing I remember well was how the streets were so thick with ash and dust, that it looked like it had been snowing. As we worked through the debris, it stuck to your shoes like fresh snow.
K: As soon as the towers came down, a lot of communications were restricted, cell phones were not working, and I remember seeing all the off-duty officers back. Those of us that were not in uniform got into uniform, and we had a detective go commandeer an MTA bus, and we all went over as a unit to the WTC.
We got down to where the towers were at about 12:30 in the afternoon, and we worked until the next morning. There was a lot of search and rescue going on at the time, working through a pile of steel and dust that was no less than 30 or 40 feet high, trying to find survivors, and escorting residents to safety.
E: After the initial response, the landfill in Staten Island was opened up and they moved all the vehicles in the area of the attack there including patrol cars, fire trucks, and ambulances.
K: For about four months, Ed and I worked with five or six other detectives and members of NICB to catalogue all vehicles that were damaged in the attacks, which could be difficult at times because the cars they were bringing us didn't look like cars anymore.
AF: How has your experience as a first responder on 9/11 stayed with you?
E: One of the things that really kept us going happened on the first day. Residents had lined the FDR in lower Manhattan in a candlelight vigil thanking first responders for their hard work and sacrifice.
K: I have to mention the hard work of the volunteers that came to help. We had volunteers not just from around the country but from around the world supporting us and taking care of us.
E: In the months right after, there wasn't a plane that didn't go over head that you didn't take a second look at. I was one of the first on the scene on November 12 when a plane went down in Belle Harbor that we all feared was another attack, though it turned out to not be. That was a chaotic time in my life, with my father being sick and my mother-in-law battling breast cancer, all while raising three young kids. So, I really had to keep moving forward and stay strong as everything was going on, and that motivation has really stuck with me.
K: You think about it a lot and try not to dwell on it, but it is something that makes you more vigilant and encourages you to live for today.
This solemn date serves as a reminder of how fragile and sacred life can be. We at NICB sincerely thank Director Kevin Gallagher and retired SSA Ed Carlson for their heroic work in the aftermath of 9/11. NICB would also like to acknowledge and thank the brave firefighters, police officers, and members of our armed services who make the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country safe each and every day.