By Steve Strunsky The Star-Ledger
Port Authority Police Officers Brett Porigow and Ray Butler will never forget the 12-hour shifts they and other officers worked at Ground Zero in the months after 9/11, picking through debris or standing watch for hours on end in the bitter cold.
But they also remember how the job was made more tolerable by the outpouring of emotional and material support from local residents and police departments from around the country.
“There were departments from as far south as Florida,” said Butler, an NYPD officer at the time who later joined the PAPD. “Boston PD was there, which is one reason we were in such a hurry to get up here. We’ve been down the same road.”
Butler spoke by phone Wednesday from the intersection of Boylston and Berkeley Streets in Boston, where he, Porigow and other members of the Port Authority Policemen’s Benevolent Association had set up a mobile canteen to provide food, coffee or just a place to sit for police and others working at the scene of Monday’s bombings.
“What we’re doing here is a smaller scale of what was offered to us down there,” said Porigow, a PBA trustee.
The union sent the mobile “cantina,” as well as its stress counselor and nine officers to Boston on Tuesday night as part of an ongoing effort to repay the generosity its own members were shown after the September 11, 2011, attacks when 37 Port Authority Police officers were killed.
Hundreds of Boston police officers and other first responders have helped themselves to the cookies, hot dogs or bottled water at the mobile canteen, the stress counselor, Peter Killeen, said this afternoon.
“They’re very appreciative,” said Killeen, who lives in Manahawkin.
He said counseling services weren’t needed Wednesday when it was still too soon for emergency workers to begin feeling the stress of Monday’s attack, which killed three and injured more than 170 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
“It’s not until after the fact, when things start to subside, and the body starts going into the rest state, that’s when you start to realize the danger associated with the event,” said Killeen, a former Port Authority police officer who has been a licensed counselor for 22 years.
Perigow, who lives in Essex County, said the cantina mission was proving as gratifying for PBA members as for the first responders it is designed to support.
“It makes us feel, as police officers, we’re no longer separate. We’re one with the community,” he said. “We have people walking by, people from Boston, seeing what we’re doing and then going and getting food, getting coffee, and bringing it by. And it’s the kind of feeling we haven’t had since 9/11.”