Fordham Asistant Swim Coach/Firefighter Is One of New York's Unsung Heroes -- September 18, 2001
(The following article appeared in the September 16 issue of The New York Daily News.
By Wayne Coffee
IT was 1 o'clock in the morning and the rain was coming hard, and Ed Cammon was weary and woebegone, his bunker gear caked with cement and ash, his spirit weighted down by nothing that could be sprayed off with a hose.
Cammon is 57, a grandfather from Queens, a man with 38 years as a New York firefighter and 31 as an assistant swimming coach at Fordham University. He was trudging up West Street in his bulky black suit early Friday morning, after nearly 12 hours of hand-and-knee combat in a place that used to be called the World Trade Center and is now known as Ground Zero, the horrific hub of the worst terrorist attack in American history.
Ed Cammon has been one of the many firefighters who have aided in rescue efforts at the World Trade Center since day one.
Alongside his brothers at Engine Co. 36 of East 125th St., Cammon sifted through the wreckage, jagged stumps and twisted beams and the detritus of thousands of lives. It was impossible to fathom what had happened, two mighty towers morphing into one sick scrap heap. He dug on, with his hands. The mountain in front of him and all the other rescue workers was 10 stories high in places. Nearby was a burned-out carcass of a flattened ambulance.
"It looked like a Tinker Toy," Cammon said. He prayed to find somebody who was alive. He only found parts, legs and feet and torsos and hands. The stench was almost too much to bear. He put the pieces of human beings into 6 1/2-foot long canvas body bags and zipped them shut. He kept going. They all did.
It was Cammon's second tour at Ground Zero. It may have been worse than the first, Tuesday night, 12 hours after the hijacked planes slammed into the towers.
"I've never seen anything like it in my entire life," Cammon said. "It's devastating. I don't think anyone, no matter who they are, can describe what this is like." He shook his head.
Back in the firehouse, Cammon was ending a 24-hour tour. He was wearing blue Fire Department shorts and a matching T-shirt, black socks and a 36 Engine hat over his balding gray head. The kitchen was thick with commotion, firefighters drinking coffee and eating bagels and danish.
Another firefighter, Tim Moynihan, just starting his tour, put on a white hard hat with "Bleep You Bin Laden" on the back. It got good reviews. The guys were talking about the vast outpouring of love and kindness, of unity, everywhere they look: the ironworkers who walked off their regular jobs to be here, the rescue people who have come from Texas and North Carolina and everywhere else, the restaurants that are closed and may be going out of business but keep delivering meals by the hundreds to the cops and firemen and rescue crews.
"This tragedy has brought out something in people that's incredible," Cammon said.
Later in the afternoon, he would be poolside in the Bronx, for a preseason Fordham swimming practice. It's work he loves, his chlorinated catharsis. "With all that's going on, it's just tremendously positive," Cammon said. "I go out of one world, and completely into another." He loves the teaching, helping kids "get there and back as fast as they can."
There is no such clear-cut answer in his day job, and his regular life. Like so many others involved in sports, from part-time assistant to millionaire professional, Ed Cammon's week encompassed rage and rubble, confusion and numbness, grief and relief — the kind you feel when you find out a fellow firefighter has gotten out.
The guys at 36 Engine still have lots of dear friends missing. They will keep going back until they find them.
"That's what we do," Cammon said.
Pain is pouring everywhere now, in sports and out. The TV images keep coming; they look like something from a bad movie but hit like a grenade in the heart. People grapple with what to do, how to feel, how to help.
Ed Cammon is no different, and when he and his brothers are on hands and knees, digging for life and hope, he can't disagree with Curtis Martin, running back of the Jets.
"It's impossible to be normal," Martin said.
"It's normal to have a time of mourning. It's normal to weep."