9/11 Stories: NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea was a narcotics detective on September 11th. His wife was at work and his two daughters were in school. Shea was home alone with their 2 year old son, planning to have a nice visit with his mom nearby. He was startled by the look on her face as she opened the door, leading him inside to see for himself what was unfolding on tv. Shea immediately left to go down to the site of the terror attack. It was a long ride in with plenty of time to think. He remembers wondering if we were now at war. His most vivid recollection of 9/11 was the frustration that there was nothing to do. Everyone had rushed to the scene to help but by the time he arrived, both towers had collapsed. Shea remembers, “we all stood around all day, waiting for orders. There just wasn’t much to do”. In the early days after 9/11, Shea was assigned pro what turned out to be one of the most dangerous jobs, working at the landfill on Staten Island. The landfill was basically transformed into a burial site. That’s where the 9/11 debris was sent. It was now a forensic site where Shea and others were handed rakes, combing an area the size of a football field, searching for human remains. In the early days, there were no hazmat suits or hazmat tents. Those working the site breathed in the toxins from the debris, which was later scientifically tied to causing 68 different cancers. Det. Shea says among the first to work the landfill were undercover narcotics officers, figuring it was safe to send them there, so as not to blow their covers.