911: Wood County police officers among volunteersWritten by Courtney Wagoner | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks unfolded on television, then-Perrysburg police sergeant Mark Wasylyshyn turned to his wife Jenna and said, “I need to go and help.”
With the blessing of the Perrysburg Police Department, current two-term Wood County Sheriff Wasylyshyn and fellow officer Jim Williams, a 22-year veteran, took a patrol car to New York City. They began a weeklong quest to offer their services to NYC officers.
“I had never visited the city prior to the attacks,” Wasylyshyn said. “I really had no idea what to expect.”
Every morning for seven days, Wasylyshyn and Williams would report to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to get their daily assignments. The Javits Center is located on the west side of Manhattan and is owned and operated by New York City. It served as the command center for volunteers arriving from across the United States.
The officers worked 12-hour shifts. Most assignments were to provide respite for their brothers-in-arms.
“These officers had been working 14- and 16-hour shifts for days on end,” Wasylyshyn said.
One assignment was security work in front of embassies representing 14 countries. Another day they were sent to Pier 36 on the Hudson River to do identification checks. Foot patrol duty in Times Square was shared with two officers from Texas. The four men were the only officers on duty in the normally bustling area.
Wasylyshyn said they were driven by adrenaline.
“It was such a life-changing, rare experience; I was never tired,” he said. “Although, I must admit I slept very well at night!”
As a result of the influx of volunteers, NYPD officers were given the chance to attend funerals, rest and eat. Many NYPD law enforcement officers went out of their way to find the Ohio volunteers to personally thank them.
“I remember watching this patrol unit crossing through barricades, you could see them walking for blocks directly toward us,” Wasylyshyn said.
When they reached the Perrysburg officers, the unit stated they “just had to meet the Ohio volunteers” and shake their hands, he said.
The citizens of New York City continued to amaze the officers throughout the week. Wasylyshyn and Williams would work security or in uniform patrolling the streets and people would come up and give them a hug and thank them for their work.
“We ate lunch at area delicatessens. It was difficult, if not impossible to get anyone to accept our money,” Wasylyshyn said. “A few times we had a meal at the Pfizer world headquarters, across the street from the Israeli embassy. The Pfizer executive chef introduced himself and there was a canine in our group. The chef asked what the dog’s favorite food was and the officer stated ham. He brought out a large silver bowl full of chopped ham.
“One day a little girl came up and gave us a plate full of cookies to show her appreciation.”
As Wasylyshyn directed heavy midtown traffic, cars did not honk and speeding ceased to exist.
“Every vehicle did as I asked,” Wasylyshyn said. “My hand went up and cars stopped. It was another reminder of how New Yorkers were on the same page, working to get through this together.”
After an assignment in Greenwich Village, the Perrysburg officers laid eyes on the destruction that was caused on Sept. 11, 2001. Wasylyshyn described the scene at Ground Zero as “surreal.” The day was misty and there was an autumn chill in the air.
“There seemed to be a large haze over the area. Heavy machinery and cranes were moving the debris. It was still on fire and we were told it was 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit at the base of the towers,” Wasylyshyn said. “My eyes saw the damage, I could feel the rain on my skin and a chemical-like smell hung heavily in the air. So many of my senses were taking in Ground Zero but my brain could not comprehend my surroundings.”
On Sept. 6, Wasylyshyn and Williams were present for the unveiling of an artifact from the World Trade Center. Now on display in the atrium of the Perrysburg Police Municipal Building is ae 3-foot, 15-pound piece of steel-door casing.
“The twisted metal frame reminds me of the steel beams that were standing in the smoldering debris at Ground Zero,” Williams said.
Wasylyshyn said volunteering was a life-changing experience.
“We look at so many things differently because of the attacks. We are much more aware of our surroundings,” he said.
Wasylyshyn said he would do it all over again, “without a doubt, without hesitation.” He said he hopes to visit the memorial in New York City upon its completion. He would like to show his children, who had just celebrated their second birthday days before the attacks, where their father had the opportunity to be a first responder.