“I couldn’t have done my job if it weren’t for The Salvation Army,” says Dr. Frank Stechey. ”They brought light into my darkness. I will never forget their support, which got me through when my need was greatest.”
Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Dr. Frank Stechey was asked to join New York City’s dental identification team where 256 forensic dentists worked for months to identify over 3,000 victims. Fifteen years later, he recalls the work of The Salvation Army that kept him grounded and able to continue his grueling task.
“I couldn’t have done my job if it weren’t for
The Salvation Army”
“No one was prepared for the destruction we saw,” says Dr. Stechey. “Working with remains, checking through dental records and photos was gruesome and draining. It still stirs me. Even 15 years later.”
A few days after the attack, Stechey arrived in New York City. “The pillar of smoke and soot rising from the ashes of what had been the World Trade Centre was impossible to miss,” says Stechey.
Within hours Stechey, and his team of four, was hard at work identifying the remains of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, firefighters, police, port authority and paramedics.
“The dust from the wreckage covered everything in a thick grey coat, which made it difficult to breathe, swallow and talk,” says Stechey. “As we worked into the night, we were physically and emotionally exhausted. In most cases you couldn’t even tell if the remains before us were of human beings. It was especially difficult to work on the remains of the first responders. We were part of a brotherhood, united to help others in their time of crisis. Who would have ever thought that they would be victims too?”
Meanwhile, the team needed a break and just outside the Medical Examiner’s office was The Salvation Army’s emergency response van. At “Sal’s Café” a cup of coffee instantly dissipated the stress that had quickly built up. “It was dusty and dry,” says Stechey. “The coffee helped to calm everything down.”
“If anyone had ever told me prior to 9/11 that I would need The Salvation Army, I wouldn’t have
Over the next two weeks Stechey and his team continued with the grisly task of identifying hundreds of victims.
“From the time I arrived, to when I left, The Salvation Army provided us with whatever we needed―a cup of coffee, a hot dog, a bottle of water, a listening ear and letters of encouragement attached to snacks.”
Dr. Stechey is now retired from general dentistry after 45 years. Particularly grateful for the support of The Salvation Army during his 9/11 experience, he continues to give back by serving on their Hamilton Advisory Board, standing on their iconic Christmas Kettle and volunteers with their emergency disaster services response.
“If anyone had ever told me prior to 9/11 that I would need The Salvation Army, I wouldn’t have believed them,” says Stechey. “How wrong I was.”