Benjamin J. Luft,
We're Not Leaving:
9/11 Responders Tell Their Stories
of Courage, Sacrifice & Renewal

(Greenpoint Press, 2011)

There has been no shortage of books written about the events of 9/11, and while I have a tendency to wonder how much can you say that hasn't been said already, We're Not Leaving caught my attention. It tells the story of the events and the aftermath of 9/11 from the personal stories of first responders, including police officers, fire and EMS people, construction workers and various other volunteers who came to help and as a result had their lives forever changed because of what they saw and what they dealt with.

The book was written by Dr. Benjamin J. Luft, who is the director of the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Center at SUNY Stony Brook. This center has followed about 6,000 responders and has handled treating both their medial and psychiatric issues related to 9/11. He does an excellent job telling their stories, as well as looking at the physical, psychological, religious, social and economic factors that affected the responders. You quickly realize that this was an event that completely overwhelmed even the most experienced and seasoned people. It also tells the stories other non-first responder people like construction workers who came to remove debris and witnessed uncovering many dead bodies. This was something they were not used to dealing with in their usual line of work. Some expressed anger and frustration that they worked for days and were exposed to various contaminants that left them with permanent medial problems because they were allowed to work without proper protection. A common theme in many of the stories is their frustration with the government, feeling they were not told what they were exposed to. Many also expressed the frustration of being called heroes by the public and then dealing with a government that didn't want to help with their ongoing medical issues. You get a real sense of their anger and feeling betrayed by their country.

The book does a great job of telling the stories of the aspect that within a week or two after any large disaster occurs, the news media for the most part stops covering it, even though the cleanup goes on for months and that many people's lives have been forever changed. Luft does a very effective job of telling about the effects and aspects of post-traumatic stress syndrome that were part of dealing with the large number of dead bodies, the odors and other horrific sights that these people were exposed to.

Since I have been an EMT and first responder for almost 30 years, I really liked how this book covered 9/11; the stories were very well written and powerful. You get a very good insight of what these people had to deal with, as well as their ongoing personal struggles with how it has forever changed their lives, and how they coped with it. No amount of training or experience ever prepares you to deal with an event like this. These were all ordinary people who were put in a situation where they performed extraordinary duties and many are still paying a high price. You realize that even though some of these folks deal with tragedy on a daily basis, they still have the same human emotions that the rest of us do.

book review by
Dave Townsend

31 December 2011

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