Sun. Sep 22nd, 2019

A hero of 9/11 in the Canary Islands - La Provincia


George W. Contreras is a direct witness of the emergency device developed after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the New York World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. And yesterday he participated as a speaker at the Intervention and coordination act. Seminar on catastrophes, which was organized by the Security Department of the City Council of La Orotava and the Association of Technicians in Sanitary Emergencies of the Canary Islands (Atescan) with the motto Learning from the past for a better future.

Contreras has more than 28 years of experience as a paramedic (what in Spain is known as ambulance or emergency health personnel and he calls prehospital care).

In one of the toughest historical events of this century worldwide, this North American son of Ecuadorians had to work at the reception of the second Tower.

At first, the intervention teams did not know if they were facing a plane crash or an attack of huge proportions. The impact of a second plane against the other skyscraper cleared any doubt. In the hours of greater labor and business activity, in both buildings there could be about 50,000 people. As the event happened before nine in the morning, it is estimated that there were about 10,000 citizens in these buildings, according to Contreras himself. After two hours, both towers eventually collapsed and almost three thousand people died in the tragedy. This paramedic points out that saving those victims who were above the level at which the aircraft piloted by al Qaeda terrorists hit was impossible. And many of them, not to die burned, threw themselves into emptiness. It clarifies that to remove thousands of people who were below the plants where the fire started, the protocol established in the above-mentioned skyscrapers was applied.

He comments that, in addition to the fire caused by the collision of the airplanes against the architectural structures, the kerosene tanks of both devices were almost full, as they had just taken off, and such fuel further fueled the flames. According to official figures, 2,963 people died in the remembered episode. But Contreras clarifies that many others have died in subsequent years, as a result of diseases (different types of cancer) contracted by "the environment" produced that day, that is, inhalation or contact with toxic products, such as asbestos, materials Heavy or chemical products.

George Contreras points out that 343 firefighters died after the World Trade Center buildings fell, as well as 23 police, eight paramedics and 37 guards of the New York Port Authority. But he warns that, according to estimates, another 200 firefighters and 140 agents have lost their lives in subsequent years as a result of that intervention.

This health professional believes that in emergencies "the most important thing is to work with coordination, cooperation and communication between the different resources". In the tragedy of September 11 "there was a lot of disorganization and lack of communication."

He acknowledges that it was a fact of the utmost gravity, but also that "the city was not prepared" for an episode "of that magnitude."

Specifically, this New Yorker clarifies that, "from the air, the policemen who were in helicopters had a perspective of what was happening and what could happen much better than what we were inside the buildings." He says that if communication between all security and emergency teams had been more fluid, the alerts would have arrived earlier and fewer people had died, such as firefighters.

According to Contreras, the transmission of data at that time was based on the fact that the police offered data to their coordinators and they contacted those responsible for fire and health, which, in turn, had to subsequently notify their respective teams . For this New Yorker, with that model of transmissions a lot of time was lost and the whole process was slowed down.

He states that "the lesson has been learned", although it has been "very hard and expensive." And that the information channels between emergency intervention means have improved.

As a university professor of Public Health and Emergency and Disaster Management, George Contreras also defends the need for a mental health service, since many professionals who participated in the operations during the aforementioned tragedy have suffered "depression or syndrome post-traumatic, like soldiers returning from some wars, and have difficulty recovering the psychological balance at the previous level "to the attacks. On whether citizens have managed to overcome that episode of their lives 18 years later, Contreras indicates that "I think that such an event leaves its mark, but the city and the world, in general, have been resilient (ability to recover after suffering a tragedy of large dimensions) ".

"Many countries joined to support us and we are very grateful; resilience with the support of others" is more effective, he says. "The city has risen, there is a new Tower and New York has not given up," he says. He believes that sharing the conclusions that are drawn from a real tragic episode, as it was on September 11, is very valid, since young people "must be better prepared and trained than we were."

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