Damien D. Willis
Las Cruces Sun-News
LAS CRUCES – In the days and weeks following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, volunteers from all across the country leapt at the opportunity to help with rescue and recovery efforts at ground zero in New York City.
Before the first tower collapsed that day, Mesilla Fire Chief Kevin Hoban was on the phone — eager to volunteer.
It began like an ordinary Tuesday morning for Hoban who, at the time, was a paramedic for American Medical Response. The radio alarm clock went off. It was tuned to KLYT-FM out of Albuquerque.
“I was about to get up and get ready to go to work,” he said. “And the DJ on the radio station I was listening to said they were getting reports about an aircraft hit one of the World Trade Center towers. So I got up and turned on the television and the first tower was on fire.”
At first, he thought it must have been an accident. “But then, as I was watching it live, I saw the other plane come in and hit the second tower.”
Hoban was also an intermittent federal responder with the National Disaster Medical System, so he immediately called his chief commander with the Disaster Medical Assistance Team, who told him everybody was on alert.
“And that was before I’d even learned about the attacks on the Pentagon and Shanksville,” Hoban said. “So I went ahead and reported to work at AMR, and just tried to catch the news as we could. We were all kind of glued to the TV at the station, and meanwhile responding to calls as they came in.”
Hoban said he went to Signergy on North Main Street and bought a big American flag. That afternoon, he attached it to his ambulance when he attended a community gathering at the horseshoe on the New Mexico State University campus.
Deployed to ground zero
It wasn’t until late October that Hoban’s team was deployed to ground zero, where their job was to medically support the first responders who were still sifting through the burning debris of the collapsed towers. When he arrived, he said his team was booked into the Hilton Garden Inn on 54th Street.
“And the strangest thing happened,” he said. “As I was walking through the lobby I was stopped by a man who gave me a photograph of his daughter on a button. He said, ‘This is my daughter; she died at the World Trade Center.'”
More than a month after the attacks, the crash site was still on fire. “The fires burned until Christmas,” Hoban said. “As they dug through the rubble, air and oxygen would rush in and the fire would just flare up again. It was like opening up hell.”
Even into November, Hoban said the first responders were pulling out girders “glowing red with heat.”
As the thousands of first responders sifted through the rubble, Hoban and his team were there to provide medical support. He said he’ll never forget the sights and sounds — the scraping of machinery and smells of concrete and soot — that he experienced at ground zero.
“It was the real deal. It wasn’t a two-dimensional picture on your phone,” he said. “It was a war zone.”
‘That’s who I am’
When asked what made him want to volunteer for the 9/11 recovery efforts, he said it was a number of things.
“I wanted to serve my country, and I wanted to help my brothers and sisters that were down there working in the pile, working in the rubble,” he said. “I wanted to support my teammates on the DMAT team. It was just a desire to make a difference — and to help.”
For Hoban, the desire to serve comes naturally, he said.
“That’s who I am. I want to serve my country, not just my community. I was not eligible to serve in the military, because of a hearing problem. I’m deaf in one ear,” he explained. Though he’d hoped to join the Air Force and become a pilot — and got an appointment to the Air Force Academy — he learned during his physical that he couldn’t join.
He has since found other ways to serve others.
“He’s been to just about every huge incident that’s happened in the past 25 years,” said Hoban’s daughter, Crystal DeArmond, who was a senior in high school when the 9/11 attacks occurred. “My father has always been that way. He will do what he needs to do, and will do whatever it takes to get it that done. I’m extremely proud of him.”
Seleena Hoban, who was 14 when the attacks occurred, said her father seems to learn something every time he is called away, and comes home with a strong sense of gratitude.
“The courage it takes — the heart it takes — you just can’t comprehend it sometimes,” Seleena said.
When asked what he would say to the families of those he helped at ground zero, his answer came quickly:
“Thank you for letting me serve you.”
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