NY Daily News - May 12, 2019by Larry McShane
Eighteen years later, Mike Nugent can’t forget how a week-long stint at Ground Zero shaped his life.
The current special operations chief of Florida’s Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue holds the indelible memories of his work in the rubble of the World Trade Center’s South Tower, pulling the bodies of four FDNY members and two Port Authority victims from the nightmarish landscape during a September week at the toxic site.
And there’s the sarcoidosis that nearly killed him two years ago, when his heart stopped beating while driving 65 mph down a Florida highway. His health woes are likely linked to his 16-hour days on the smoldering pile in Lower Manhattan.
“Anybody who works this job knows your body is nothing more than a sponge, soaking in everything in the air,” he said. “No regrets, no. My only regret is not learning to play the bagpipes before I turned 50.”
Iconic photos of Nugent and three other Ground Zero workers will appear on special MetroCards beginning this Wednesday, part of the run-up to the May 30 opening of the 9/11 Memorial Glade honoring all those who died in the years after 2001 from deadly ailments linked to their heroic work.
Their ranks include rescue, recovery and relief workers, and the glade will also recognize residents of the surrounding neighborhood who were sickened or killed. The site is also intended to acknowledge the work of those who emerged unscathed from their time on the lethal pile.
The debut is tied to the last day of the recovery mission at Ground Zero: May 30, 2002. Recovered World Trade Center steel will be melted down and fit into fissures carved into a half-dozen stone monoliths, each weighing more than 13 tons, that will anchor the site.
The MetroCards will also feature Daniel Armenta, a San Francisco fire lieutenant who volunteered at Ground Zero and died from bladder cancer in 2013; Tampa Fire Rescue First Lt. Mark Bogush and his K-9 partner Marley, who worked the night shift for seven straight evenings in a hunt for remains; and ex-NYPD Crime Prevention Specialist Roslyn Nieves, who arrived one week after the attack to work security.
“The devastation,” said Nieves when asked about her memories of September 2001. “And the smell of death. You could never forget that smell. It was coming up through the sewers.”
Nugent, 62, recalled reaching Ground Zero on the Monday after terrorists plowed two hijacked planes into the Twin Towers,
“I’ve gone to hurricanes – Hurricane Katrina – and I’ve never seen devastation like that," he said. “Just the amount of dust, it was everywhere. When we got there, there was just huge, huge, huge debris. There were no phones, no desks, nothing. "Everything was in itty-bitty pieces. And the dust, the smoke and the heat. Nobody had seen anything like it.”
He recalls the blank, “50-mile stare” on the face of a co-worker surveying the destruction.
The cards will be available at 10 subway stations, most in the area around Ground Zero: World Trade Center on the E line, WTC Cortlandt St. and Rector St. on the No. 1 line, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall on the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 trains, Cortlandt St. on the R and W lines and Wall St. on the 4 and 5 lines. Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, Times Square and Jay St. in Brooklyn are the others.
Nieves, who plans to attend the May 30 ceremony, recalled the good mixed in with the unthinkable. When she looked at her photo, “I could see the angst in my eyes from how bad it was down there,” she recalled.
“Everyone knew someone who died in the towers, or was working in the towers,” she recalled. “So there was an outpouring of people. When I saw everything, and how people pulled together — people put their differences apart to help.”