Victor Gonzalez, across the Hudson River from the southern tip of Manhattan, worked in the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center and is part of the rebuilding phase.
When the World Trade Center towers collapsed five years ago, Victor Gonzalez was on his way there within 24 hours, driving his flatbed loaded with rescue equipment and volunteering to do whatever he could to help. Shaken, he felt the heat of the flames and was covered in the ash and dust of the smoldering rubble as he helped rescuers desperately search for survivors.
Gonzalez went back to the site again and again, his flatbed part of the rebuilding that five years later has seen America rise from the rubble with the construction of a new 7 World Trade Center to replace the third building that fell that day. Since May of this year it has been alive with people and commerce, and Gonzalez helped build it.
As America put the nightmare of the attacks behind her and rose again, so did Gonzalez. “The memories are still there, but helping to rebuild what we lost, that felt good,” he says. “To go back to a place that was so terrible and be part of making it new, you feel you’re part of something special.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a company driver rolling into Manhattan called back to the Kearny, N.J., yard of L.J. Kennedy Trucking to say a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. In a field around the corner from the yard, employees looked out over the Hudson River and watched in horror as a second jumbo jet crash into the other tower.
Around midnight on 9/11 emergency management officials called L.J. Kennedy asking for help. Sensitive search and rescue equipment had been flown into McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., from California, and the government needed someone to haul it to the still-flaming, dust- and debris-choked scene of destruction in southern Manhattan.
Gonzalez, 36, volunteered himself and his tractor-trailer to do the job. Escorted by New Jersey state troopers, he hauled on a flatbed equipment that would be used to listen for sounds of life amidst the rubble and to sense places the rubble might collapse.
“We went to the command center, which was some distance from Ground Zero,” he says. “They asked if there was anybody who wanted to go all the way in. I said, ‘I’ll try.’ At that time we all hoped there’d be a lot of survivors, and I thought we could save people. We kept driving slower and closer looking for ways to get all the way.”
Gonzalez had to navigate through dust, smoke, ash and flaming debris, but he got support from the crowds along the way.
“All the way down to the site as we crept along, people in the streets were clapping and cheering, coming up to the truck and asking if they could help,” he says. “There was a feeling that no matter what had just happened to us, we were all together as Americans and we were already fighting back.”
Gonzalez unloaded the equipment, but he had to stay close in case it had to be moved.
“There were engineers trying to find out how stable the rubble was so they could see where I would take the flatbed,” he says. “But there weren’t many places they considered safe. One day President Bush came, so there was no way to move the trailer that day.”
Gonzalez stayed near Ground Zero for a week, living in his sleeper, helping any way he could, and feeling his mind and body collapsing under the ordeal.
“I tried to do as much as I could to help the people looking for survivors,” he says. “I could come and go on foot and get things for firefighters or rescue crews that they needed.
“It was hard. It was very stressful. Full-grown men, as tough as nails, would break down and cry after they found out someone they knew had died. But total strangers were also helping each other, working together, and that feeling of us all being in it together helped me keep working down there.”
Meanwhile, a specially trained rescue dog stayed in the truck with Gonzalez when it wasn’t working.
“I never knew his name and I wasn’t allowed to pet him, but we shared the sleeper without any trouble,” Gonzalez says. “He found two Port Authority officers who had been trapped in the collapse pretty quickly.”
After his week at Ground Zero, a badly shaken Gonzalez went back to Kearny and resumed his regular job. But that wasn’t the end of the work at the site for Gonzalez or L.J. Kennedy.
To the big rig drivers of L.J. Kennedy, the World Trade Center is special. Although the storied L.J. Kennedy name is known as a Northeast building materials hauler that specializes in deliveries to the big, bad New York City jungle, only the Kennedy drivers that live within 100 miles of NYC are likely to deliver to the Big Apple. The others work America east of the Mississippi.
The local drivers helped build the towers, helped rebuild them after a 1993 terrorist bombing, helped build the first skyscraper to go back up at Ground Zero, and they will help build the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, the building that will replace the Twin Towers. Kennedy drivers also hauled rebuilding materials to the Pentagon, damaged when another hijacked jumbo jet slammed it on 9/11.
In the five years since the 9/11 attacks, Gonzalez has pushed the traumatic memories aside and helped rebuild the shattered city and Ground Zero site. He has driven his flatbed back into Manhattan time after time since 9/11, often threading his way through the tangle of closed streets and detours as the city cleaned up after the attacks. One of his jobs was to bring in steel, forms, roof decking and other material that contractors used to erect the new 7 World Trade Center.
The third skyscraper to collapse on 9/11 was known as Building 7, and it sat on land adjacent to the 16-acre Twin Tower site. It collapsed on the evening of the attack after it had been evacuated, brought down by fiery falling debris from the Twin Towers. The new building was erected in its place.
“When you do something like that, you feel you’re really helping to rebuild,” Gonzalez says. “It’s more than just a job.”
The trips to the new construction at World Trade Center 7 were at first emotional for him. “Every time in there brought back memories,” he says. “But as it went up it helped feel like they can’t keep us down.”
Bob Stoner, 37, a 10-year veteran at Kennedy, also found deliveries to 7 World Trade Center emotional. “It was tense at times,” he says. “You couldn’t help but remember 9/11, and when you got that close it could really shake you.”
Stoner, whose father was a flatbed driver who let his son ride in the cab but kept telling him, in vain, not to choose driving as a profession, also volunteered to haul drywall, steel, forms and studs into 7 World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“In both places it felt really good making something come alive again,” Stoner says. “It felt good to be there helping, contributing.”
Both World Trade Center and Pentagon were no easy deliveries.
“It was difficult to get to both places. At the Pentagon, you had to go through a check point and then another one five minutes later, with Humvees and soldiers with .50 caliber weapons everywhere and dogs jumping into the cab and checking it out and soldiers searching the load,” Stoner says.
“But when you’re used to driving through places like New York, you learn not to let frustration get to you, and when you’re part of something like rebuilding the Pentagon, you feel like you’re part of the same effort as the soldiers, and you just do what you have to. It’s not like long delays and frustrations on an everyday delivery where you might try to get things speeded up a bit.
“When you got to the Pentagon to unload, you could see workers bustin’ their butts to get the work done as fast as they could; you could feel the pride in the air.”
The rebuilding is especially poignant for Willie Williams, a native of Selma, Ala., who hauled construction materials to the original World Trade Center towers in the early 1970s, when his loads were lifted by crane up to the last few stories.
Williams went back after attackers set off a huge bomb in an underground car park at the towers in February 1993 in an attempt to bring the buildings down. The bomb collapsed several of the lower levels of one of the towers when 50,000 people were inside. In an eerie foreshadowing of 9/11, crumbling concrete, steel, power lines, water pipes and cars sent clouds of black smoke into the sky and up the stairwells. Six people died, and more than 1,000 were injured.
“I hauled to the rebuilding at the World Trade Center after the bombing, mostly drywall loads,” Williams says. “There was a lot of security, and it was hard to get to where you had to go, but the security was nothing like it was trying to get back there after the towers came down on 9/11.
“It was a good feeling to use your experience as a driver to be part of rebuilding America.”
FIVE YEARS LATER
New security regulations have changed the face of trucking
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, government regulators, Congress and even fleets predicted major changes for the trucking industry similar to the revolution that took place in airline security.
But in five years four major regulatory efforts have had most impact in changing the way truckers do business – and those only affect a portion of the industry. Instead of wholesale changes, regulators have prioritized action focused on drivers with hazardous material endorsements, port haulers, truckers who cross the border and, in the most recent development, hazmat haulers licensed in Mexico and Canada who come to the United States. And even those security efforts are not fully implemented years after the fact.
Before the attacks, anyone who passed the hazmat test received the endorsement and could pull loads from nail polish to nuclear waste.
The Transportation Security Administration announced rules in 2003 requiring background checks for drivers with hazmat endorsements on their CDL. Drivers renewing, transferring or applying for a new CDL must now go through a fingerprint-based background check. Some drivers will be denied a hazmat endorsement because of criminal convictions (see sidebar).
Before the background checks began in 2005, there were roughly 2.7 million commercial drivers with hazmat endorsements. Some of those drivers chose to drop their endorsement instead of paying the substantial fees (more than $100 in some cases) or inviting government scrutiny to keep them.
For Georgia-based Donald and Susan Pardue, who haul high security hazmat with Landstar Ranger, there is no choice – they must have a hazmat endorsement.
“The new regulations haven’t caused problems, but they have caused a lot of inconvenience,” says Susan Pardue. “My husband had to renew his license last year, and there were only four places in Georgia he could get his fingerprints done, and it was really inconvenient trying to get to one of those and get it done and then get the paperwork all done.
“We were told that the process could take a long while, so he tried to start last November so it would be done by April when he had to renew. But then he was told he couldn’t start until January or February. We were told one thing then another, and that adds to confusion and frustration. Once he started, though, the paperwork came through quickly. I hope it will be easier next year.”
Drivers who wish to renew, transfer or add a hazmat endorsement to their license are now faced with different procedures depending on their state. Today 33 states ( see Renewals page 26) and the District of Columbia use TSA locations and have standardized the background check process. Drivers go to one of TSA’s fingerprint clearinghouse locations (there are more than 155 across the country), fill out an application, pay $94 and get fingerprinted. They complete the testing or renewing portion of their CDL through their home state’s motor vehicle office.
The other states elected to create their own process. Those states collect fees, fingerprints and applications and forward that information to TSA. In some cases, the fees are lower than the TSA charges, but most states charge roughly $100 for the background check and application process in addition to their fees for license renewal.
There is some evidence that processing is quicker in states using TSA contracted agents rather than their own agencies to collect fingerprints and background check data.
As more and more drivers decide not to renew their endorsement, companies are forced to change their way of working.
“A lot of drivers are not renewing their hazmat endorsement when it comes time,” says Al Hingst, executive vice president of the independent contractor program at U.S. Xpress and fleet owner of the JTI division of U.S. Xpress based in Lincoln, Neb. “It’s creating problems.”
The company hauls general freight, but some of what is considered “everyday” by the general public is actually hazmat, for example, paint and hairspray.
“We have fewer drivers with hazmat endorsements, and so do a lot of other companies,” Hingst says. “I think the time is coming when we’ll be seeing hazmat surcharges; in fact, we are seeing some of that now.
“From a logistics point of view it’s creating problems, too, because we have fewer drivers that can go anywhere to pick up any load even if it has some hazmat.”
As a fleet owner, says Hingst, he is adapting his recruitment practices and spending a lot of time finding incentives for drivers to maintain their hazmat endorsement.
The complete check takes several weeks – in some cases months. States require a driver to clear the process before they renew their CDL. No background clearance, no hazmat endorsement. States have different requirements for when you must start the renewal process in order to complete the background check on time: in New Jersey, for example, drivers have to start the process 45 days prior to renewal; in Missouri, it’s 60 days. Drivers must renew their hazmat endorsement every five years and go through the process again under TSA rules.
During the background checks, which began for new HME applicants in January of 2005 and for all renewals in May of that year, TSA compares criminal records of hazmat endorsement holders against the list of disqualifying crimes (see sidebar). If the criminal record check shows that a holder has committed a serious crime, the driver and state licensing authorities are notified. A disqualified driver must surrender his or her endorsement.
The Transport Security Administration is more than happy with the way the changes are working, says TSA spokesperson Darrin Kayser.
“Absolutely it’s been very successful,” Kayser says. “It’s efficient, and it weeds out of the system people that could be a threat.
“As of the beginning of this year we’ve had more than 190,000 applications. Once we get the information from the states or from our contractors, it takes an average of five days to be processed for 95 percent of drivers. In some cases it can take as little as two days.”
So far, says Kayser, the disqualification rate for HME applicants and renewals is less than .1 percent.
- PORT SECURITY
U.S. Customs, the Coast Guard and port owners have worked to improve container screening along the entire length of the supply chain, but for port workers, including truckers, post-9/11 changes have taken longer to implement.
For a brief period after the attacks, various ports implemented their own identification cards for truckers and port workers. But the programs were expensive and required drivers who regularly visited more than one port to carry multiple IDs.
After several pilot programs, the TSA and the U.S. Coast Guard are finally poised to issue Transportation Worker Identification Credential cards, complete with biometric information. The agencies are comparing the names of port workers against criminal, terrorist and immigration databases. All people, including truck drivers, with unescorted access to secure areas of port facilities and vessels regulated under the Maritime Transportation Security Act will be required to have a TWIC.
The proposed TWIC regulations for ports would require the collection of workers’ biographic information, including 10 fingerprints; name; date of birth; address and phone number; alien registration number if applicable; photo; employer; and job title. Background checks would include a review of criminal history records, terrorist watch lists, legal immigration status and outstanding wants and warrants. TSA and the Coast Guard are proposing to use Smart Card technology and include a worker’s photo, name, biometric information and multiple fraud protection measures.
The TWIC, which would be valid for five years, would be funded through user fees. TSA anticipates workers would pay about $139 to receive a TWIC. Workers with current, comparable background checks would pay about $105 for the credential.
The TSA and Coast Guard released their final plan for the TWIC in May and by July 6 had received public comments. Both agencies are now considering those comments, and the first credential is expected to be issued as enrollment begins before the end of this year, says TSA’s Kayser.
- BORDER CROSSING
Border security has also stepped up, particularly entry from Canada. The U.S. and Canada have set up credentialing programs to speed border crossing. Programs like FAST (Free and Secure Trade), C-TPAT and PIP have helped the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its counterparts in Canada focus on questionable cargo while allowing regular shipments to flow across the border.
The effort most likely to affect drivers is FAST, a credentialing program. It is a joint U.S. and Canadian program where drivers, carriers and importers are prescreened by customs officials, and drivers carry a FAST identification card. Customs officials already know vital information about the background of the trucking company and the trucker when they get to the first inspection booth. The program can speed transit times significantly.
Both customs services are employing high-end screening equipment like mobile X-Ray machines and explosive sniffers and detectors.
In the United States there is C-TPAT, or Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a government industry partnership where carriers, consolidators, customs brokers, importers and manufacturers work with the government to secure the supply chain. In Canada there is Partners in Protection, or PIP. C-TPAT members face fewer border inspections, and when they do, they receive higher priority than other non-member carriers.
Lance Wood, an owner-operator leased to Colonial Express, hauls hazmat, mostly paint and air bags, into Canadian auto-building plants.
“I really don’t have any problems crossing the border that are caused by security; the problems I have all have to do with the amount of traffic, especially when you cross at Windsor,” Wood says. “In my opinion the security is a joke. It’s harder to get into Canada than it is to get into the United States.”
Wood, who has renewed his hazmat endorsement, says after 9/11 the Canadian authorities checked him out far more thoroughly than U.S. officials.
“They did a full background check, right back into my early teens, checked me, the truck, my pockets, everything. I cross about four or five times a month, and I really don’t have any problem. They can see in the computers all of the checks they did on me, and they know how often I come through so I really don’t get held up at the line. But that traffic, man, that’s way worse of a problem than security.”
- HAZMAT HAULERS FROM MEXICO AND CANADA
Since Aug. 10 the TSA has required drivers licensed in Canada or Mexico to commercially transport hazmat to undergo a background check by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection’s FAST program before they can bring placarded hazmat loads into the United States. The check is similar to the one used for American drivers.
Without that check, the load stays on the other side of the border.
TSA has been trying to find a way to both enhance border security and promote cross-border commerce, says Stephen Sadler, TSA’s director of Maritime and Surface Credentialing. “Use of the FAST card for drivers registered in Mexico or Canada brings consistency to the current rules so that the required background checks are conducted on all individuals who transport hazardous materials in the United States.”
The new rules were broadly drawn to be sure that American hazmat definitions now cover any hazardous materials coming out of Canada and Mexico, including explosives.
“We needed to look closely at the borders,” says TSA spokesperson Kayser, “and close any loopholes that might have existed that could let someone from another country come here without having been as thoroughly checked as a driver here with hazmat endorsements.”
An applicant will be disqualified from holding a hazmat endorsement if they have been convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity in a military or civilian court for any of the permanently disqualifying crimes or in the past seven years for a felony on the list of disqualifying crimes; have been released from prison within the past five years for any of the disqualifying crimes; are under warrant or indictment for such a felony; have been declared mentally incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
According to TSA, this list of disqualifying felonies identify crimes that pose a potential threat to the nation’s transportation network.
- Assault with intent to murder
- Kidnapping or hostage taking
- Rape or aggravated sexual abuse
- Immigration violations
- RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) violations
- Distribution of, possession with intent to distribute or importation of a controlled substance
- Dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation, including identity fraud
- Unlawful possession, use, sale, manufacture, purchase, distribution, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, delivery, import, export of, or dealing in firearms or other weapons
- Conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these crimes
A driver will also be permanently disqualified from holding an endorsement if he or she was ever convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity of any of the following crimes:
- Unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, manufacture, purchase, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, import, export, storage of, or dealing in an explosive or explosive device
- RICO violations (if the crime underlying the RICO conviction is on the list of permanently disqualifying crimes)
- A crime involving a transportation security incident*
- Improper transportation of a hazardous material
- Conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these crimes
Any current driver who has a disqualifying offense prohibiting the holding of a Hazardous Materials Endorsement must immediately surrender the endorsement to his or her state department of motor vehicles.
* Minor infractions involving transportation of hazardous materials will not disqualify a driver; for instance, no driver will be disqualified for minor roadside infractions or placarding violations.
In the 33 states (and D.C.) that use TSA to administer background checks (see map), the fee is $94 plus whatever the state charges for application, testing, transfer or renewal. TSA’s fee includes $38 for information collection, $34 for threat assessment and $22 for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That fee may be paid by credit card or electronic check at this site or by money order made payable to Biometric Technology, LLC. Drivers living in these states may also be fingerprinted at any TSA location – not just in their state of origin. Locations are closed on legal holidays.
Locations can be found at this site
In the remaining states which collect fees, information and fingerprints, drivers must go to their state motor vehicle departments and follow their state’s procedures.
States Doing Renewals Themselves:
States Using TSA Agents to Renew:
It’s not just changes in government regulations that have altered the way truckers go about their daily work and keep themselves in a job.
Shippers became concerned about security after 9/11 just as the government did. So they made some changes in the way they operated. Concerned about their own plant security, they created new regulations of their own, and they also began talking to trucking companies about how security could be improved.
Marten Transport, for example, found that some clients were concerned when drivers who do not normally deliver to them and were unrecognized arrived with loads. So Marten now requires drivers to carry company-issued photo i.d. badges so that when a Marten Truck arrives to pick up or deliver, the customer’s security personnel can be sure the driver is from Marten and is not a security risk.
Other companies say their drivers are not allowed to park near plants unless they are ready to load or unload, and companies also report additional security and checkpoints, some including tractor and trailer inspection at some companies.
Drivers are also finding increased security at military bases and at shippers filling government contracts. “It’s much tighter than it’s ever been these days,” says one veteran government contract driver, “and it can be a long, frustrating process, but I think people like me who do this know that we need this level of security.”
“Around military posts, like near Fort Bragg, you can’t drive as close to major bases as you used to.”
“The fee for HAZMAT renewal has gone up dramatically, and you have to wait up to a year just for approval before you can get it renewed. I’ve also experienced random checks at scale houses.”
Shaw Transport, Inc.
“A couple military bases have searched my trucks.”
“I’ve been checked at the Long Beach port once when I was picking up a 40-foot ocean container. That’s it. I don’t think there is enough security at ports in this country. My friend who works over at a port says that they only check one out of every 100 containers.”
Rough & Ready, Calif.
–Sean Kelley and John Latta
"There probably should be some minimum standards. But as long as the ...