How Hornell police helped with 9/11 rescue efforts and security 20 years ago

Rich Scavo was among three Hornell Police Department members who traveled to Ground Zero on 9/11 and witnessed the "total devastation" of the attack.

Chris Potter
The Evening Tribune

Even today, 20 years later, Rich Scavo hasn’t been able to watch any of the countless documentaries depicting the events of Sept. 11, 2001

For Scavo, memories are more than enough. 

Scavo and two colleagues from the Hornell Police Department, Sgt. Christopher Cunningham and officer Richard Regan, departed Hornell for New York City the afternoon of the attacks, ready to provide whatever assistance was needed. They arrived at Ground Zero just before the clock struck midnight on one of the longest days in American history. 

“To be honest with you, in 20 years I haven’t been able to sit down and watch a documentary about that day,” Scavo recalled this week. “It’s something I would never want to relive or experience again. I have no regrets about going at all, but it was certainly traumatic. I didn’t realize how traumatic it was until afterwards.” 

The Hornell team was quickly put to work providing police escorts into Ground Zero, guiding search and rescue dogs, fiber optic crews and truck loads of portable lighting to the site as first responders worked feverishly through the night, hoping to pull survivors from the rubble. 

“It was just total devastation,” Scavo said. “It was debris everywhere. There was nothing that resembled what I recalled as the World Trade Center. There was just lots of steel and about 12 inches of dust. The only thing that was recognizable at the Ground Zero site other than the damaged vehicles were papers blowing around that blew out of the windows. There was nothing that resembled a chair, a filing cabinet, a light, or a desk. It was just lots of dust and paper debris, and lots of twisted steel.” 

Rich Scavo, left, and Chris Cunningham of the Hornell Police Department at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Scavo was familiar with the area. He was born in Brooklyn and started his law enforcement career with the NYPD in the 1980s. In those days, one of his duties was delivering fingerprint cards from Queens Central Booking to 1 Police Plaza, just around the corner from the World Trade Center. 

A native New Yorker, Scavo witnessed the city and the nation rally around the rescue effort on 9/11 and in the ensuing days. 

“The people of New York City were remarkable,” said Scavo. “As we were escorting search and rescue crews in, people would line the street holding up thank you posters. There was also the people that were looking for relatives. They’d have a picture of somebody that was missing, asking have you seen this person? 

“It was remarkable how New York City came together during that time, and the different agencies from all over the country. There were police agencies from Florida, from California, police agencies across the whole entire United States sent help to New York City, which in itself was remarkable.” 

Scavo, Cunningham and Regan spent five days in the city, much of it around Ground Zero. Once, they were assigned to protect the UPS facility attached to the Javits Center nearby. In those early days, nobody knew if another attack might be imminent. 

“Obviously there was some concern about additional attacks coming because of where they put us strategically. We had different roles wherever they needed us,” said Scavo. “We did whatever they asked us to do.” 


Two other Hornell officers, Mark Mahoney and PJ Dyring, were dispatched to the city a few weeks later to aid the NYPD. The Hornell Fire Department also sent down an ambulance crew. With so many resources tied up at Ground Zero, the Hornell EMTs spent about a week covering normal medical calls in the city. 

“Obviously their resources were depleted and they had to backfill their positions,” said Hornell Fire Chief Frank Brzozowski. “Our primary purpose down there was to more or less run the city calls because everybody was so intense in what was going down at Ground Zero. Our crew was sent to down there to run the other calls and assist them as much as possible.” 

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Back to Ground Zero

“Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror” has been near the top of the Netflix charts since its release Sept. 1, but Scavo has no plans to watch the documentary. He’s taken just one return trip Ground Zero, where One World Trade Center now stands. Scavo visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum in January 2019, overcoming some initial reservations. 

He made his way to the memorial rooms, which contain photos of all the individuals who perished on that September morning. Scavo knew one of the faces, New York City firefighter Gerry Schrang. 

Schrang played a pivotal role in Scavo’s life. They served together with the volunteer fire department in Holbrook on Long Island, where Schrang was a captain in the 1990s. During a trip to the Hornell area with Schrang’s race team, Scavo met his future wife and his path to the Maple City was set. 

Schrang responded to the attack on the World Trade Center with Rescue Co. 3. He was in the north tower when it fell at 10:28 a.m. 

“That was hard,” Scavo said of his visit to the memorial room. “There’s the saying, ‘it was so quiet you can hear a pin drop’ — that’s how it was in those rooms.” 

Schrang, 45, was among 343 New York City firefighters who died on 9/11. 

“They were trained to do a job and they were doing their job,” said Brzozowski, Hornell’s fire chief. “At first, no one knew exactly what went down, that it was a terrorist attack or not, or just a simple accident or an explosion. No one knew initially. They were going out to do their job like they would on any other call and got caught up in the aftermath of a terrible attack.” 

Today, Scavo is retired from the Hornell Police Department but remains engaged in the community, serving as North Hornell’s Superintendent of Public Works and Hornellsville’s Town Justice. 

The events of 9/11 continue to linger. Scavo has been monitored for medical issues through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Thousands of first responders who worked in close contact with toxic chemicals at Ground Zero have developed cancers and respiratory diseases. 

“Here it is 20 years later and people are still dying as a result of responding there,” said Scavo. “That’s quite upsetting.” 

Chris Potter can be reached at or on Twitter @ChrisPotter413. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.