Remembering 9-11: Mark Perry

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A paramedic working in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, Mark Perry had just left his base station in the Bronx and was eating a sesame bagel when the first plane struck the World Trade Center.
After the second plane crashed in the towers, a dispatcher sent Perry and other ambulance crews to the scene.
“It was complete chaos,” he said. “In New York, everyone wants to be in charge.”
Ten blocks from the Twin Towers, Perry heard, felt and then saw the second tower fall.
“Nobody thought the second would collapse,” he said.
They set up for a mass casualty incident, with ambulances lined up and prepared for thousands of injured victims who never appeared. Many people who were still in the towers when they collapsed died, and the main injuries treated on the street in the days following the terror attacks were inhalation-related, Perry said.
The collapsing towers felt like an earthquake, he said. He told his mother in Salisbury, Barbara Perry, that she could not imagine, even after seeing TV footage, the devastation.
Now 33, Perry moved to New York in 2000 after attending the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem to pursue a career in classical composing.
His interest in medicine and a desire to work for the best emergency medical services system in the country — the New York City 911 system — led him to train as a paramedic and EMT.
The hospital, ambulance service and volunteer agencies Perry worked with all lost people in the terror attacks.
“It was a blur,” he said. “You know it’s happening, but you can’t come up with the result at the end of the day. Were we going to see tanks in the street? Someone invading onshore?”
Everyone working at Ground Zero remained calm and kept their cool, Perry said.
“You work in New York long enough and you become cynical and pragmatic and understand that anything could happen,” he said. “You don’t lose your head over it.”
Perry, who worked as an EMT for about 10 years in New York and Charlotte, said he’s never had nightmares about 9/11.
“I’ve filed it in the same drawer as any number of other horrific accidents,” he said. “I know human beings are capable of a lot of things.”
New York City received the humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg Award in 2001 for “all of its citizens who searched for the missing, cared for the injured, gave comfort to loved ones of the missing or lost, and provided sustenance and encouragement to those who searched through the rubble at ground zero.”
One person represented each public safety sector. Perry accepted the award on behalf of New York’s emergency medical service.