Ground Zero volunteers ski Summit County |

Ground Zero volunteers ski Summit County

Lu Snyder

SUMMIT COUNTY – Indiana resident Tom Kaade had never skied in Colorado before this week. And he had never been to New York City before the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground.

Kaade and fellow Midwesterners Ron Cornelius and Larry Schaack, came upon their ski vacation in Summit County under unusual circumstances; it was a thank-you for volunteering at Ground Zero.

Like most other Americans, Kaade watched his television in disbelief as the twin towers fell to the ground. Like most others, he said he felt helpless. But as a patroller on the Swiss Valley Ski Patrol in Michigan, Kaade is trained in first response and rescue, so it wasn’t long before he wondered if he could be of any assistance in the rescue efforts.

Kaade called his fellow ski patrollers and three agreed to go with him – Cornelius, Shaack and Wayne Dockery. Through FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), the four men were scheduled to help with the “bucket bridgade” and sort through rubble for signs of victims – wallets, credit cards, and even teeth.

Cornelius said he doesn’t even remember stopping for food on the 12-hour drive from Indiana to New York City.

“We just drove straight through,” Cornelius said. “We were on a mission.”

By the time they arrived, the city had taken over the organization of rescue efforts and the men were told their help wasn’t needed. After a 12-hour drive though, Kaade said “We were not ready to turn around and go home.”

Since Cornelius was the only one in the group who had been to New York before, the men spent their first day sightseeing. Some told them it was the best time to go sightseeing, since there was no traffic and no typical “New York attitude.” But there also were no twin towers and the Statue of Liberty was closed.

“It was real close to being a ghost town,” Kaade said.

“It was kind of subdued,” Cornelius said, adding that it wasn’t the same New York City he had visited previously.

After several attempts to volunteer with the New York Police Department, Red Cross and the Salvation Army, the men were put to work loading semi-trailers with supplies for the workers at Ground Zero. That same night, they helped provide snacks and water to the 5,000 people who attended the candlelight vigil in Union Square.

Eventually, Kaade and his friends worked at an aid station in the “North Cove” of Ground Zero – about 100 yards from the remains of one of the towers, Kaade said. They supplied rescue workers with food, water, medical supplies, fireproof boots and more equipment.

Often the men were so focused on their duties, they almost forgot the enormity of the situation.

“You’d get so wrapped up in what you were doing and then you looked over (at the rubble) and it was a reality,” Cornelius said.

They worked 12- to 18-hour days during their week at Ground Zero.

“I started getting the fireman-syndrome where I didn’t want to stop,” Kaade said. “It was hard to leave the site at night.”

Moving on

When they left for home on Sept. 21, everyone in the truck was quiet.

“We all wanted to stay but … we had done all we could,” Cornelius said.

“The initial ride home was just very quiet … everyone was reflecting,” Kaade said.

Cornelius said he has a hard time finding the words to describe how he feels about being able to help in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

“What word do I use?” Cornelius asked. “Yes, I’m glad I went. I was proud to go. I was happy to go.”

Kaade believes Dockery said it best.

“He said he felt complete,” Kaade said. Unlike most Americans who were only able to contribute using their checkbooks, Kaade, Cornelius, Shaack and Dockery were able to help at the site.

“Complete is probably it,” Cornelius agreed.

“We’re glad we were able to help,” Kaade said.

And the experience has changed their lives.

“There are so many things that trigger memories,” Cornelius said. Triggers include seeing cranes at a construction site, a Red Bull sign in the gas station. Even I-beams loaded on a semi driving down the highway brings back images of twisted I-beams at Ground Zero, Cornelius said.

“So many things make those visions in your mind come back,” he said.

“It’s made me realize more how short life really can be,” Kaade said. “I don’t really want to let opportunities go by.”

So when Kaade’s client, Tom Freeze, who owns a house in Frisco called Kaade and invited the group to spend a week skiing in Summit County, Kaade accepted.

Kaade had never skied in Colorado before this week. But skiing in Michigan is pretty similar to the spring conditions they found here – except the slopes are steeper and longer here.

Cornelius pointed at a ski jump built a short way up the slope from Copper’s base and said their ski hill in Michigan is about the same size. Cornelius and Kaade laughed.

“I’m just glad we’re here skiing and we weren’t in the World Trade Center,” Kaade said.

Cornelius scanned the patio of skiers and boarders – innocent people – enjoying the sun around him and remembered the victims of Sept. 11, also innocent people.

“They just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Cornelius said.

Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or

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