Sept 11: Women take action

Sunday, September 8, 2002

Book's co-author has family ties to Dakota Midland

By Elaine Babcock
American News Writer

EMT Bonnie suffered asthma attacks from inhaling the polluted air - When the thick black-jacketed book was handed to me to read as a possible feature, I thought,

"I can't do this. I can't read one more word about the terrorist attacks in New York City."

I put the book in the desk drawer, out of sight, but every time I opened the drawer, the colorless firefighter on the cover haunted me. What pain lay behind those eyes? What had she seen that would change her forever? What was she thinking? Yes, SHE. What had she lived through and experienced in this career that was dominated by men?

OK. I will read the introduction and maybe a chapter or two to get the basics of the story. But just a few pages.

"Women at Ground Zero: Stories of Courage and Compassion" by Susan Hagen and Mary Carouba, photography by Joyce Benna.

The white letters stand out from the stark black cover. I read from the introduction, "This book is not meant to diminish the contributions of the men who lost or put their lives at risk at Ground Zero . . . it is simply meant to tell the story of the World Trade Center tragedy from a perspective that has been largely ignored - that of the women who were there."

Local roots

Hagen is a firefighter/emergency medical technician in Sonoma County, Calif. She has written professionally for 25 years.

Carouba is an investigative social worker in northern California who works on behalf of abused children and elders. She is a writer, speaker, educator and performance artist.

Hagen has roots in this area. Her mother, Edith

(Olson) Hagen, was born and raised in Veblen. Her great-grandfather, Torger Hagen, homesteaded on a farm between Roslyn and Webster. Susan's grandfather, Ed, farmed it and her father Paul Hagen was raised there. Paul and Edith farmed for a short while before moving to Arizona, then California. Susan's uncle, Glenn Hagen, and his wife, Joy, are the third generation to farm the homestead.

Sought out women

After finding little in the media to honor the women who worked during and after the attacks, Hagen and Carouba determined to go to New York to hear firsthand the stories of women who served at Ground Zero as police officers, firefighters, emergency medical providers, construction workers, engineers or counselors. They discovered that women volunteered to work wherever they were needed, entering buildings to rescue people, setting up triage areas to care for the wounded, working in the morgue or with heavy equipment, or supplying clean socks and underwear for cleanup crews.

The interviews were done in late October, November and January. The book consists of 30 chapters told in first person from interviews of women ranging in age from 23 to 59 who were at Ground Zero.

I can't read all the interviews. It would be too intense, too much pain and horror to comprehend. I'll just read about Carol.

Carol, a police officer in Lower Manhattan, patrolled subways for 10 years. Unaware of her own shoulder and knee injuries and respiratory problems, she continued to help with evacuation of people from the building.

I don't want to read more. Oh, maybe just one more chapter.

Terri rescued 100 people from an apartment building while she herself had concrete embedded in her head and glass in her back.

I keep reading. I can't stop.

Tales fascinating

black clouds of debris and white clouds of powdered cement - but continued to treat people.

Police officer Patty went into Manhattan on her day off where she sifted through rubble and passed buckets in the bucket brigade.

EMT Mercedes, 23, weighing about 100 pounds, described the overwhelming fear as she worked with a team trying to set up triage as people were evacuated from the towers.

Maureen worked in the morgue where workers wrote vouchers for each body or body part and any personal belongings or remnants as the body bags were passed down the line. How could she do it? She says,"We had to do it. Who else were they going to have do it?" She describes the smell that wouldn't go away even after she went home and scrubbed herself. Salvation Army counselor Molly says, "I felt that there was no race, no gender, no religious separation. We were all one."

Driving over bridge

Fire Department Captain Brenda talks of driving over the Brooklyn Bridge, one side completely empty, the other side full of people walking. She talks of working with no structure, no organization, no equipment.

Paramedic Christine worked to set up facilities for treating victims. After the first fire, there were hundreds of people treated. Christine describes the ghostly scene of rows of empty beds prepared for survivors, empty after the collapse of both towers because then there was no one to treat. They were all dead.

Police officer/psychologist Sarah's concern is for the mental health of the rescue workers and others who saw such horrific things. She is worried that many will commit suicide as the memories cannot be shaken off.

Sequence of events

The women describe the sequence of events - North Tower hit. Debris and people flying out of the windows. Evacuate people. South Tower hit. More debris and people flying from the windows. The explosion and the total darkness as South Tower collapsed, causing a mushroom of particles of concrete, debris and body parts. The horrible silence before the second building collapsed.

Three chapters of the book commemorate three women who died while on duty at Ground Zero. Captain Kathy Mazza and officer Moira Smith lost their lives while helping evacuate thousands of terrified people. Emergency medical technician Yamel Merino was administering life-saving treatments to the injured when she was killed during the building collapse.

Gives new perspective

The book was eerily fascinating. Seeing the events on TV is not really seeing. Reading the first-person accounts in vivid detail with descriptions of feelings, smells, fears and courage puts a new perspective on the events of those horrible days. The stories of 33 women told in this book are merely a sampling of the stories of courage that will be told and retold throughout history.

I don't believe it. I read the whole book from cover to cover and will probably read it again!

In speaking of Susan's inspiration to write the book Joy Hagen said, "When we were watching the attacks on TV, even my husband and I had noticed the lack of coverage of women. We knew they were there."

Joy said of Susan's experience in writing this book, "Her life will never be the same again."

Nor will the lives of those who read it.

Women at Ground Zero, priced at $22.95, is available locally at Little Professor Book Center, or online at or

All profits from the book after expenses will be donated to three nonprofit organizations - Women in the Fire Service Inc., National Center for Women and Policing, and Greater New York Hospital Foundation EMS Fund.

Interviewers, authors: Authors Mary Carouba, left, and Susan Hagen traveled to New York City to interview women who experienced the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Firefighter: In addition to her writing, Susan Hagen, who has relatives in the Webster and Roslyn areas, is a firefighter and emergency medical technician in Sonoma County, Calif.