11 Days of Heroes to September 11th, 2023: Elizabeth Cascio

Image from the 9/11 Museum & Memorial

EMT Elizabeth Cascio responded to both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 attacks. She is also a cancer survivor and below are a compilation of her responses to questions about that day:

“The morning started just like you will hear everybody else who is a survivor or responder say, as a beautiful late summer day. It was a strikingly beautiful day: blue, blue skies without a cloud in sight and the perfect temperature. It was so beautiful. I remember grabbing my morning coffee to sit outside for a few minutes just to take it all in.

“I was back in my office for 20 or 30 minutes before an officer who worked with us at the academy ran in and asked, ‘What’s going on at the World Trade Center? Someone called for every available ambulance to respond.’ We started making some phone calls, but nobody picked up. We turned on the TV and see the smoke billowing out of the building. The newscaster said a plane accidentally flew into the tower. This was confusing, because it was such a clear day and it seemed impossible to not see these huge buildings.

“As we continued to watch, we saw the second plane hit the other tower. We knew in that moment we would mobilize the academy to respond, just like we did in 1993, but on a larger scale. When we mobilized the academy, we got every vehicle we had, including all ambulances. We also commandeered two MTA buses. All of us—every staff member and student—got on those vehicles. The first tower collapsed while we were en route to Manhattan.

“We finally got into lower Manhattan, and as we were turning onto West Street by Stuyvesant High School, the second tower came crashing down and engulfed us…We started to set up a war triage center. Within an hour or two, you could tell there weren’t many people to transport to hospitals…We spent the rest of the day and night at the site. There were times we got so tired, we were just sitting in the ash…We knew it was a hazardous materials scene, but there wasn’t much you could do about it.

“In October 2001, I start to have this chronic cough, which I referred to as my ‘Ground Zero cough.’ Many people would say, ‘Don’t say that.’ Then other people started coughing, too. That was the first indication that we had had some significant exposures and connected health issues…I am a 9/11 cancer survivor…Since there was less representation of women in the roles of first responders, it took a longer amount of time to study the group to see if they were having a higher incidence of illness than the general population.

“When I was on the pile, I was walking with my partner, Jimmy…We were taking in the entire scene, and I turned to Jimmy and said, ‘I get what it means to say ‘Never Forget.’ This is what they mean. I get what it means when the WWII vets say ‘Never Forget.’”