Firefighter recalls mindset that prepared him for what he saw at Ground Zero

Roland Cook and K9 search specialist Bautz on the scene at Ground Zero in 2001. (Photo from Palm Springs Police K9 Facebook page)

There were no smartphones. Mark Zuckerberg was a year away from entering Harvard. It would be five years before anyone knew what a tweet was. For Roland Cook, the first sign of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, came via something that seems primitive now but was vital to emergency personnel then.

“All of the pagers I carried all started buzzing,” Cook recalled of that morning 20 years ago while speaking Saturday to an audience outside Palm Springs Fire Department headquarters on North El Cielo Road.

For Cook, a retired engineer with the department who also trained Bautz, the department’s K9 search specialist, those pagers were just part of the gear that kept him prepared for anything. Still, as he explained during ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of September 11 terrorist attacks, no gear prepared him for what he and Bautz were about to experience as they found themselves headed to New York City to aid in the search for survivors of the World Trade Center collapse.

“We went to March Air Force Base to fly to New York,” Cook recalled Saturday of the journey he, Bautz, and other Southern California emergency personnel made soon after the attacks. “On the way there, we were contemplating what our job was going to be. We didn’t have cell phones, there were no TVs, and the airplane didn’t even have windows.

“The reality was that no amount of training, no gear we would get, would prepare us for what we were about to see.”

Palm Springs firefighters stand for the national anthem Saturday morning prior to ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

What Cook said he was expecting to see as he and Bautz first reported to work at the site of the attack in New York was a pair of 110-story office towers. Instead, they found “The Pile,” a twisted, smoldering mass of metal and debris where the Twin Towers once stood and under which he and Bautz hoped to find people still alive. Today the site of that pile is known as Ground Zero.

“In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Where did those 220 stories go?’” he recalled. Still, there was little time to contemplate the shocking scene.

“We started work right away,” Cook said. “We were frantically looking for anyone we could save.”

Cook and Bautz worked below the surface, far below the scene most people saw on television. As Bautz would key in on the scent of a human, Cook would mark the area so that crews could begin digging through and removing debris in hopes of finding survivors.

“There were several hundred firefighters lined up,” Cook told the audience. “They had five-gallon buckets and formed a makeshift fire bucket brigade.”

As rescues turned to recovery, what Cook and Bautz were finding, and what the firefighters were delivering to the surface, were remains. When the remains were those of a firefighter, he said, the moment was especially solemn.

“When firefighters’ remains were found, an alarm would sound and everybody stopped,” Cook said. “His brothers would then carry him to the top and a flag would be draped over him.”

For Cook, the experience could have left him shattered. Instead, he chooses today to take away a pair of valuable lessons.

“In the months and years that preceded 9/11, the city of Palm Springs made sure I was well prepared as a firefighter and that I had everything I needed,” he said. “But without the right mindset, your mission is going to be doomed.

“… When I look back at the past 20 years, I’ve learned that we don’t need a red Republican side. We don’t need a blue Democrat side. We are all red, white and blue, the American colors.”

To help: Sales from T-shirts and food available during Saturday’s ceremonies are being donated to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Maryland. The public is encouraged to make donations directly to the foundation on behalf of all emergency personnel who have served Palm Springs and other communities.

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Let’s Talk Community News

On September 21, you’re invited to join the editor of The Palm Springs Post and the publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent at Talk of the Town, presented by ONE-PS. The timely and informative virtual session starts at 5:30 PM and will focus on how independent publishers are working to build personal connections in their Coachella Valley communities by bringing them local news.



TRANSGENDER EMPOWERMENT: The TransPower Project, in conjunction with DAP Health and Queer Works, is presenting the Transgender Night of Empowerment tonight at 6 PM at Oscar’s in downtown Palm Springs, 125 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way. The event features free entertainment, appetizers, a raffle with prizes, and more. Tips on how members of the transgender community can stay healthy and thrive will also be offered. A guest panel will discuss mental health and how to receive gender-affirming care in the community. Free drink tickets are being offered for the first 50 people. If you have questions about the event, please contact Michael Malfavon at 760-656-8434 or email

ROAD WORK: Nighttime road work — and associated lane and ramp closures — are scheduled to continue this week along Interstate 10 between Beaumont and the Coachella Valley. It’s part of an ongoing improvement project covering nearly 20 miles of freeway between Beaumont and Highway 111 near Palm Springs. Alternating lane and ramp closures that started yesterday will continue through Thursday from 7 PM to 6:30 AM each day westbound along the entire length of the project — as well as eastbound between Beaumont and Banning. No daytime lane closures are planned

SCHOOL COVID: As of this morning, the Palm Springs Unified School District is reporting 40 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff. Schools in Palm Springs account for six of those cases, including four among students and two among staff. The most cases reported at any city school were at Palm Springs High School, where three cases were reports, including two among students and one among staff.



LIBRARY CRAFTS: The Palm Springs Public Library is inviting students in grades 6 through 12 to craft a cool canvas pencil pouch using black markers, starting today. Materials are available at the library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, and then you can view an instructional video on the library’s YouTube Channel, which will be uploaded today.

COFFEE MEETING: The Palm Springs Sunshine Sisters are holding a morning coffee get together at 8 AM at Koffi, 650 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way. You can sign up to be part of the group, formed to help women make new connections and friendships, on Meetup here.

MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers multiple classes today, starting at 8 AM. Included in today’s offerings are a presentation about traveling to Santa Fe and Painted Canyon. For more information about all of today’s offerings, click here.

STRATEGIC PLANNING: The city’s Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Strategic Planning and General Update meets at 1:30 PM via Zoom. Instructions for participating in the meeting, as well as a complete agenda, are available here.

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION: The city’s Human Rights Commission meets via Zoom starting at 5:30 PM. To view, listen, or participate in the meeting, see the instructions and agenda here.


RECALL ELECTION: Tuesday is the last day to vote in California’s Gubernatorial Recall Election. Voters can drop off their ballot at Palm Springs City Hall, 3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, or at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center, 480 Tramview Rd. In-person voting is open from 7 AM until 8 PM at City Hall, the Unity Center, and Demuth Community Center, 3601 E. Mesquite Ave. More information is available here.

DESERT HEALTHCARE: Multiple meetings of the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation take place today. All of them are via Zoom. For a complete list of the meetings, including participation and viewing instructions, click here.

MIZELL EVENTS: Wii bowling, a laughter clinic, and intermediate Spanish are among multiple offerings today at the Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way. For more information about all of today’s offerings, click here.

HAPPY HOUR: The Palm Springs Sunshine Sisters hold a happy hour at 5 PM at Lulu California Bistro, 222 S. Palm Canyon Dr. You can sign up to be part of the group, formed to help women make new connections and friendships, on Meetup here.

ONE-PS: The Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs (ONE-PS) monthly membership meeting begins at 5:30 PM. More information about the meeting, which is held via Zoom, can be found here.

MEASURE J: The city’s Measure J Commission holds its regular meeting at 5:30 PM via Zoom. A complete agenda and participation and viewing instructions are available here.

SITE PRESERVATION: The city’s Historic Site Preservation Board meets at 5:30 PM via Zoom. A complete agenda and viewing and participation instructions are available here.

PUBLIC HEARING: The Palm Springs Unified School District has scheduled a public hearing of the Board of Education for 6 PM during its regular meeting. The purpose of the hearing is to discuss the adoption public textbooks and instructional materials compliance for fiscal year 2021-2022. The hearing will take place at district headquarters, 150 District Center Dr.


MIZELL EVENTS: Programs at the Mizell Center today include Dick Brodie’s Jam Session, a knitting circle, and new member orientation. The center is located at 480 S. Sunrise Way, and events begin at 8 AM. For a complete list of today’s offerings, click here.

BOOK CLUB: The Morning Coffee Book Club meets via Zoom at 10:30 AM. The club will be discussing The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. To receive meeting information and join the club’s email list, please email Scott Biegen in advance of the meeting at

HORA DE CUENTOS: La bibliotecaria Nancy Valdivia lee cuentos, canta canciones y enseña conceptos de aprendizaje temprano (miércoles en español y jueves en inglés) para estudiantes de preescolar de 10:30 a.m. a 11:30 a.m. Puedes ver los videos en YouTube aquí.

WATER AGENCY HISTORY: Desert Water Agency (DWA) and Palm Springs Historical Society are hosting a free webinar at 2 PM to celebrate DWA’s 60the anniversary. The webinar will dive into how water has helped our desert grow and thrive, how DWA came to be, and what’s next for the water in Palm Springs. Register Here to receive a link to watch the event on Zoom. Questions? Call DWA at 760-323-4971 (extension 272) or email

MOBILE HEALTH: A mobile health clinic will be parked at the James O. Jesse Desert Highland Unity Center, 480 W. Tramview Rd., today from 9 AM until 4 PM. Operated and staffed by Borrego Health, the mobile unit will provide a variety of medical services for residents, such as family medicine, women’s health and pregnancy tests, immunizations and physicals for school, HIV/STI testing, COVID-19 testing, labs, and more.

ARTS COMMISSION: The city’s Public Arts Commission meets today at 5:30 PM via Zoom. A complete agenda and instructions to view, listen, or participate in the meeting can be found here.


WATER AGENCY: The Desert Water Agency Executive Committee meets online at 8 AM. An agenda packet, as well as instructions, will be posted here when available.

MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers exercise classes, informational programs, and other events for members starting at 8 AM. Among the offerings is a movie titled, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, starting at 10:30 AM in the Noia Auditorium, and jewelry making at 10:30 AM in the Hearst Room. Today’s complete schedule can be found here.

STORY TIME: The Palm Springs Public Library offers story time for preschoolers starting at 10:30 AM via YouTube. Librarian Nancy Valdivia reads stories, sings songs, and shows early learning concepts (Wednesdays in Spanish and Thursdays in English). You can find more information here, and watch the YouTube videos here.

NOT TEEN TALK: The Palm Springs Public Library’s teen librarian hosts an Instagram Live session each Thursday at 3:30 PM. To follow along, follow @psplteenzone on Instagram here.

FOOD AVAILABLE: FIND Food Bank distributes food in the city today at multiple locations. From 5 PM until 6:30 PM, food is available at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros. Food is also available at the community food bank, 610 S. Belardo Rd., between 5 PM and 7 PM. A complete calendar of food distribution in the community this month is available here.

FREE MUSEUM ADMISSION: The Palm Springs Art Museum offers free admission from 5 PM to 7 PM this evening. Tickets are required and can be obtained here.

VILLAGEFEST: The city’s weekly outdoor street fair takes place at 7 PM on Palm Canyon Drive between Amado Road and Tahquitz Canyon Way. The event includes vendor booths on both sides of the street, which is closed to vehicular traffic. At this time, face coverings are required for all who attend, regardless of vaccination status.


MIZELL EVENTS: A creative collage class and beginning drawing are offered today at the Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, starting at 8 AM. Today’s complete schedule can be found here.

BOOK CLUB: The Friends of the Palm Springs Library Book Club meets at 2 PM today. This month they are discussing My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. To participate, please contact Scott Biegen by email at Most titles for the club are available as downloadable audiobooks or e-books from the library.


VOTING OPEN: Our partners at The Coachella Valley Independent have started the process of determining the best of the best in the Coachella Valley for 2021-2022 and need your help. Nominations are currently being accepted via fill-in-the-blank voting through the end of today. After that, the top vote-getters in each category move on to the final round of voting, and winners are announced on November 22. To nominate a business or person in any one of multiple categories, start here.

HUNGER ACTION: FIND Food Bank is engaging with the public through fundraising and awareness events this month in an effort to leave no local resident hungry. Multiple Palm Springs businesses are participating. For more information about all local events this month, go here.

LIBRARY CARD DRIVE: The Palm Springs Public Library is running its annual library card drive during the month of September. Library cards are free to residents of California and offer many advantages other than being able to reserve and check out books. Ready for a library card? Just head to this site to register.

PEDESTRIAN SAFETY: The Palm Springs Police Department will increase patrols throughout September to crack down on driving violations that put pedestrians at risk. As part of Pedestrian Safety Month, police will be searching for violations such as failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, illegal turns, failing to stop at stop signs or signals, and speeding.

FILM FESTIVAL: All-access passes, six-packs, and individual tickets are now on sale for Cinema Diverse: The Palm Springs LGBTQ+ Film Festival, held September 16 through 30 at the Historic Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2100 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way. This year, Cinema Diverse is offering a multi-platform experience with films available virtually and at the theater. Complete information about tickets for this year’s event can be found here. Sponsorship opportunities can be found here.

TRAM CLOSED: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is closed for its annual maintenance. If all goes well, it should reopen on October 4.


Want to know what’s happening in your city and at agencies that make decisions affecting your neighborhood? See below for calendars, meeting agendas, and links to all city services, police reports, code enforcement reports, and more:

City of Palm Springs calendar of events | Official city contacts

Palm Springs Public Library calendar of events

Palm Springs Unified School District calendar | Board meetings

Desert Healthcare District Board of Directors meeting agendas

Mizell Center calendar of events

Desert Water Agency calendar

ONE-PS calendar of events

Police reports | Submit a police report

Code compliance reports | Report a code violation

Current road projects and closures

Street sweeping schedule

Palm Springs Disposal pickup schedule | Holiday schedules

Sunline Transit bus schedule

Currently active development projects

FIND Food Bank mobile market schedule

Well in the Desert daily meals | Food distribution


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