Monday, September 24, 2001

By DAVENE JEFFREY -- Halifax Chronicle Herald

Const. Jamie Symington poses with his partner Trakr in 1999. Trakr came out of retirement to help with rescue efforts in New York after the Trade Center catastrophe. (Halifax Herald)

Retired Halifax police dog Trakr is believed to be the only dog to locate a survivor in the debris which once was the New York World Trade Center, says a California police officer. Halifax police dog handler Const. Jamie Symington and his dog Trakr spent three days searching the rubble for survivors.

"In a small way we accomplished something, but the magnitude of this tragedy is overwhelming," says Cpl. Joe Hall, who worked with the Halifax canine team in New York.

The officer from Palos Verdes Estates Police Department in southern California was on vacation in Nova Scotia and visiting his friend Const. Symington when terrorists attacked the United States. "We decided we should do something," said Cpl. Hall, and within 15 hours the two police officers and Trakr the German shepherd were at Ground Zero.

"We identified ourselves and what we had to offer," Cpl. Hall said, explaining how the trio were able to cross the border and get waved through Manhattan roadblocks. The group arrived at about 4 a.m. on Sept. 12 "and within an hour we were searching. We spent three days there."

The officer finds it difficult to remember how many locations they searched and how long they spent inside buildings or climbing through the debris. "It's hard to keep track of where we were. Time sort of lost its meaning."

Trakr directed the pair and other recovery teams where to look for victims. Usually, he only found body parts, many of which the searchers didn't even have to dig to get to, Cpl. Hall said. But at one site, he located a surviving woman, who a recovery team was able to dig out of the rubble.

Another point during the search, the three found a Raggedy Ann doll in the ruins and both men feared they would find a dead child nearby. "My Gosh, if I find a child here I don't know how I'm going to react," the officer recalls thinking.

The three worked morning till night, breathing in the dangerous dust Cpl. Hall described as a mix of concrete and asbestos. On Friday, Sept. 15, it rained and although precipitation cleared the air, it made footing slippery. "Friday ended it for us . . . Trakr was near exhaustion," Cpl. Hall said.

At that point, more canine units were also joining in the search. "When we arrived, we were the only active" canine unit from outside the city, he said.

As the trio headed out of the city and left the restricted search zone, they drove through a crowd of New Yorkers awaiting word on the search. "That's one of the things that I'll remember most," he said. "They were cheering us and thanking us."

During the search, Cpl. Hall said he felt frustrated that he didn't have his own canine partner, Quin, with him. "But I was also really glad to be watching Jamie's back. . . . We made a really good team," he said.

Since his time in New York, Cpl. Hall says he's spoken to a fire department chaplain, but he say's he and Const. Symington have been each other's support systems. "The first couple of days, I felt numb," he said. Const. Symington could not be reached for comment.