Just months prior to September 11, New York City’s Mayor closed the Fresh Kills Landfill. This huge tract of land straddling the West Shore Expressway (Rte. 440) treated passersby and nearby residents to an odiferous tour de force. The summer months were really bad. For years, Staten Island was jokingly referred to as “the forgotten borough,” though the landfill spawned another nickname. An expletive was substituted for the first four letters of “Staten.” Residents breathed a sigh of relief and somewhat fresher air following the dump’s closure. They were thankful to then Mayor Giuliani and Borough President Guy Molinari.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the City of New York needed a location to perform the grisly work of separating human remains and personal effects from the World Trade Center debris. Fresh Kills was re-opened for this purpose. As I went to work at Con Edison’s Victory Blvd. location, I could see the huge Klieg-like lights that surrounded the work space. There, recovery workers toiled 24 hours a day, seven days a week for nearly a year. Detectives worked alongside them, gathering evidence, as Gov. Palin wrote in Going Rogue, p. 81. Like many other things from that day, those lights on the landfill would be seared in my memory. Some things, you never forget.
Some of the debris was ash so fine that it cannot be identified, even with today’s technology. Known as “the fines,” they remain at the Fresh Kills Landfill. The fines may contain human remains, are vast in quantity, and contain hazardous material mixed in. They cannot be simply scooped up and moved elsewhere.
My job at the time of 9/11 was to provide desktop technical support, but I also installed and configured Cisco routers, switches; LAN cabling; and built server racks. Roles were not as clearly defined then and the tech support people had the opportunity to get their dirty little hands in everything. I had no idea of who was working down the road from me…
Seared in Palin, Heath Legacies
Rochester, NY: November 21, 2009: Chuck Heath Reassures an Overflow Crowd that Gov. Palin will sign everyone’s book and no one will go home disappointed. Meanwhile, Sally Heath hugs and comforts a Palin supporter. Photographer: Ron Devito
Unbeknownst to me, as I plied my trade about a mile away from the Victory Blvd. facility, Chuck and Sally Heath were working at the landfill. In fact, the area where they worked can easily be seen from the Victory Blvd. loading dock. Just look for the American Flag fluttering in the distance:
Fresh Kills Landfill as seen from Con Edison’s Victory Blvd. Facility
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services brought the Heaths in to keep pests and predators away from the recovery workers and their work area. Fresh Kills had only been closed less than a year prior to September 11. It was overrun by rats and seagulls.
Meanwhile, on September 11, 2001, back in Wasilla then Mayor Palin set up her emergency command center in the Mat-Su Valley’s Public Safety Building. Then she went to the local Presbyterian church to pray with and comfort residents, also covered in Going Rogue, p. 81. The former Wasilla Mayor went on to be an Oil and Gas Conservation Committee Chair. Then she became Alaska’s Governor, a Vice Presidential Candidate, and is a now a private citizen. She has proven that you don’t need a title to make a difference. She has a proven track record of solid crisis management skills and her handling of September 11 as Wasilla’s Mayor is part of that record – as are the mother and father who molded her.
The Heaths did not merely fly a flag and say “united we stand.” They got on a plane, came here to Staten Island and aided in the recovery effort. What they saw on that landfill – remains of their countrymen and women being separated from rubble on a conveyor belt – will be seared in their memories forever. They did this work out of love of country. The Heaths were undeniably instrumental in forming who Former Alaska Governor Palin is today.
On September 11, 2007, Track Palin enlisted in the US Army and was deployed a year later to Iraq. His mother rushed back to Alaska to preside over the deployment ceremony on September 11, 2008, watching as her eldest son went to war. Track rose to sergeant and is served in Afghanistan. He brought home his own battle scars. Track used the services of Mighty Oaks Warrior Foundation and now helps fellow vets who suffer from PTSD. September 11 is seared in Track’s memory. That’s why he enlisted that day. Now, what he saw while serving is also seared in his mind.
In over three quarters of a century, the Heaths did not merely bear witness to history, they were part of it and September 11 will be forever seared in the Palin and Heath legacies.
Towers of Light being tested on September 10, 2016 as seen from Front St. behind the Staten Island Railway Clifton station.