STRATFORD, Conn. – Moments after the word got out about the shocking terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center September 11, relief supplies started pouring into New York City. But as wonderful as those gestures were, there was one little problem. Items such as water, clothing, food and medical supplies were trucked into the city, but there was nowhere to put them.
That was evident as late as Tuesday, September 18. Many street corners in downtown Manhattan appeared to be warehouse space, with pallets after pallets of seemingly abandoned supplies. West Street alone, which is being used as a route for emergency trucks, was lined with pallets of bottled water and sports drinks.
“The problem was, everyone wanted to help. So they filled up these trucks and headed into the city, which was crazy,” Henry Beaulien, a national warehouse specialist for Adventist Community Service, which is run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, told Fleet Owner. “They had nowhere to unload them, nobody to receive the stuff, and as a result they unloaded them wherever they could. But it didn’t get where it was intended to go.
“Unfortunately that stuff is going to be ruined from the weather. It showed that our country had a good-natured but desperate need to help,” he added.
Stratford, CT-based Sikorsky Aircraft was one of the first local firms to jump into action. The manufacturer of helicopters and military planes, after locking its hangars for an hour, decided to open them up again so they could fly supplies and rescue workers into NYC’s Ground Zero.
“We realized that everything we can make flight-ready, we should send out. We launched seven aircraft within hours,” said John Toth, the business agent for Teamsters Local 1150, which represents the workers at Sikorsky, a subsidiary of United Technologies. “Americares had got in contact with us, and we started flying in doctors and supplies, and word got out that water was needed. We picked up 6,000 gal. of bottled water and started flying that down.”
At that time, Local 1150 realized they could get more done if they brought in supplies by truck. But they also realized, as Beaulien did, that the more supplies they brought in, the greater the chance the items would go to waste.
And that’s when a former AlliedSignal plant five miles away from Sikorsky, and also down the road from the Local 1150 office, became the ideal warehouse for items that were heading into Ground Zero.
“We realized we had already established a supply chain going down there but we were going to turn it into trucks, because you can truck a lot more freight than you can fly,” Toth said. “And it just grew from there.”
The union called Connecticut State Senator George “Doc” Gunther (R-Stratford) the morning of September 15 to ask about the two-million sq ft government-owned building. And by 1 p.m., Toth said 500,000 sq ft of the building was theirs. FEMA approved the site for excess emergency materials Tuesday, and Beauline, a veteran in handling emergency warehouses, was sent up from Cleveland, TN to run it.
In addition to that warehouse, Beauline will also operate three in New York State at sites that have yet to be determined. The Salvation Army is operating one in Bayonne, NJ. The task, Beauline said, is out of the ordinary for him, as all the other disasters he has been involved with had a need for just one warehouse.
Got the space, need the workers
About 5,000 sq ft of the former AlliedSignal plant is being used for supplies, but more is on the way this weekend. Beaulien said they are expecting at least 17 truckloads from places such as Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi, Georgia, Massachusetts, California and even New York State. And it all has to be unloaded, sorted, and loaded onto smaller trucks by volunteers – which they are still in need of.
“On a day like this, there isn’t a big need,” Beaulien said. “But if four of these trucks come all at once and unannounced, we won’t have the people to handle it.”
But the Teamsters have been rounding up volunteers. They have had several Sikorsky employees come down to lend a hand. Sikorsky also has supplied office equipment and employee volunteers. The union has given them golf carts, fork lifts, transportation and communication equipment and maintenance supplies. “The support they have given us is unheard off. They’ve been good,” Beaulien said.
Today, employees from Guinness/UDV North America, a Stamford, CT-based liquor and beer distributor, took a day off to help sort supplies. But they still need more volunteers, especially now that the trucking industry has been notified that the site is for the relief supplies, and they are starting to find it.
“Anybody who has a burden to help his fellow man, this is the place they want to come,” Beaulien told Fleet Owner. “As bad as the disaster is, you can help out and not have to deal directly with it from here.”
Stories from Ground Zero
Beaulien has seen hundreds of truckers bring supplies to his warehouses, and no matter what disaster they were there for, they’ve always been upbeat. But he said the situation now is far from normal.
“Truck drivers are a different breed of people. They are always on the ball and there’s not too much that rattles them,” he said. “But this thing here has rattled the whole country.”
Toth said the drivers have been overwhelmed by the thanks rescuers at Ground Zero have given them for delivering supplies. He said the stories have been of unbelievable resolve of the people at Ground Zero that have been getting the job done.
“They have been down there working night and day, and they’re thanking our drivers for bringing them supplies, and we don’t understand why,” Toth told Fleet Owner, explaining that the Ground Zero volunteers are the ones that deserve thanks. “I don’t think they realize just how much support they have. We’re all in this together.”
Toth added that while the nation has come together because of the tragedy, the same has happened within trucking companies. Right now, according to Toth, union and non-union members, including companies that have not been friendly with the union, have worked side by side with the single goal of providing relief.
“There have been companies here that we have not been friendly with, or companies that are not (union) organized,” Toth said. “But we’re pulling their trailers and they’re pulling our trailers, we’re driving their trucks. There is no competition here.”