9/11 book a tribute to female heroes
By Columnist Albor Ruiz
Monday, August 19th, 2002

Almost a year after the attacks on the World Trade Center, a moving book comes our way that adds significantly to the many stories of bravery spurred by the tragedy.

"Women at Ground Zero" gives voice to 30 selfless and courageous women - three of them died - who responded to the attacks or became deeply involved in the subsequent rescue efforts.

"Watching the TV coverage of the tragedy, I didn't see any women firefighters, police officers or paramedics being interviewed or even mentioned," Mary Carouba, a northern California investigative social worker and one of the book authors, said in a telephone conversation. "And I couldn't understand why."

Aptly subtitled "Stories of Courage and Compassion," this exceptional book goes a long way to fill a major gap in the coverage of the events of that fateful Tuesday and the days of horror and heroism that followed.

"[But] I knew there were women doing their part in the rescue and recovery effort," Carouba said. "And that they deserved to have their names spoken and their stories told. And I was outraged they were not."

It was this outrage - and the disquieting feeling that those women's heroic deeds could be forgotten - that made Carouba and co-author Susan Hagen, a writer and Sonoma County firefighter, embark on a quixotic quest to New York at the beginning of October 2001.

Carouba and Hagen did not know anybody in New York or have even one name in hand when they arrived in the shell-shocked city. All they had was their determination.

"We began asking around and someone told us about a restaurant where cops gathered after work," Carouba said. "We went there and I stood up and made an announcement: 'I need to talk to women police officers who were at the World Trade Center.' Three came forward and gave us a bunch of names."

Finally, Carouba and Hagen met some "key people" like Lois Mungay, the most decorated female firefighter in New York; Police Sgt. Carey Policastro, and Capt. Brenda Berkman, with 20 years in the fire service.

All are featured in the book. "They knew everybody," Carouba said.

The authors' concerns about the women's willingness to talk with them proved baseless. "They were really eager to tell their stories, they wanted to talk about what they went through," Carouba said. "They were happy that someone was interested in what they had to say."

Carouba and Hagen spent their savings and maxed out their credit cards to cover expenses, but their journey was worth it. The book, with its powerful black-and-white photographs, has been out only a few weeks but is already in its second printing.


"Women at Ground Zero" is dedicated to three brave women who lost their lives. It closes with their stories as told by their sad, but proud, families.

They are Yamel Merino, a 24-year-old emergency medical technician who left behind an 8-year-old son; Capt. Kathy Mazza, 46, from the Port Authority Police Department, who would have celebrated her 16th wedding anniversary a few days after Sept. 11, and NYPD Police Officer Moira Smith, married to fellow Officer Jim Smith, and the mother of a beautiful 2-1/2-year-old daughter.

"We also wanted to write this book," Carouba said, "for young girls to realize through the stories of these courageous women, that they can be whatever they want to be. Even heroes."

© 2002 Daily News, L.P.