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Poulsbo woman aids rescue workers at World Trade Center

For 15 days, Poulsbo resident Dee Dee Rattey comforted fears, eased worries and rescued the rescuers from emotionally surrendering to Ground Zero in New York City.

Firefighters, police officers, construction workers, steel workers, sanitation workers, and barge crew members on the front lines of the World Trade Center recovery efforts streamed into Respite Center number three where Rattey volunteered.

An American Red Cross volunteer for the past six years, Rattey took her skills to New York City on Oct. 6 and helped people, who spent hours digging through the rubble, to put their own pieces together.

Rattey, who specializes in trauma response counseling, left her private practice in Poulsbo and headed into a war zone.

Whether knee deep in the World Trade Center carnage or viewing it from 3,000 miles away, the disbelief, fear, nightmares, and worries are universal, Rattey said.

She calmed the battle worn for more than eight hours a day taking on their stresses and at the same time had to soak in the horrific scene television cameras shrink to fit a screen.

“The first thing I thought of is those old war pictures and the utter devestation,” she said. “The sight, sound, smell taste and feel of it,” she continued.

“Not only is this block gone, but that block and that block is gone.”

A computer-generated explanation of what happened on Sept. 11 can’t relay to the news viewer the gritty air, the desperate search for the innocent and the sheer enormity of the area destroyed, she said.

For Rattey it wasn’t the place but the people who made an impression on her.

“It has to be the looks on the workers’ faces when they would say ‘I can’t take one more second of this.’ Then they would eat, have something to drink, put their feet up for five minutes and put their hard hat back on and say ‘I’m ready to go back out there,’” she said.

She explains the first time she saw what is now Ground Zero.

“It is a spiritual moment the first time and every time you see it. It’s very sad. We are looking at the biggest mass grave in U.S. history,” Rattey said.

And the only way to get through the hours and days is to focus on the task she said.

“You have to be in a work mode. There’s no time for thinking about it. It never quiets down, it never stops,” she said.

Rattey worked with a small crew of other mental health professionals. Each member quickly found his or her niche and the group emotionally bonded almost instantaneously.

They counseled workers but were also each others’ source of comfort at the end of the day. She spent time talking about the tragedy with her team. At the end of the day they would tell the best part of their day to end it on a bright note.

“If I needed to talk about something I would call someone up and say ‘I have to talk,’” she said. “If I’m telling other people to do it, I’d better be willing to do it myself.”

The generosity and kindness of people there also made the experience more bearable.

Firefighters and police officers from all over the country came to New York using vacation time go to funerals and memorials — everyday events there Rattey said. Restaurants gave free meals to rescue workers and New Yorkers dropped their notorious attitudes, she said.

Rattey pulls out a photo taken on the only day when all of her co-workers and she could get together for a few hours. Their signatures are blue-ink scribbles on her white hard hat, which she also brings with her.

But there are also lessons that Rattey has brought home to her two children and her community. She said the biggest one is that some things just don’t matter.

“Some things seem so petty to me. I can’t believe people waste their energy on them. There are so many more things to be worried about. Is that really that important to get so upset about?”

Rattey said she has simplified her way of thinking and makes sure to tell her children ages 18 and 8 that she loves them.

Would Rattey go back to New York if called to do a second tour of duty?

She says yes.

“There’s so much to do there.”

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