ATLANTIC CITY – Shoes shined and collars starched, firefighters. police officers, doctors, politicians and union tradesmen gathered in a hospital conference room here Thursday as Gov. James E. McGreevey thanked them for their rescue efforts during the Tropicana Garage collapse.
Three Thursdays ago those same men and women came together only a few blocks away, but at a scene that seemed a world apart: one where hardhats, not dress blues, were the order of the day and doing your duty meant saving lives.
“We all understand the torment, the pain and the anguish of those families who lost their loved ones, men who will never be replaced … but this community responded in a way which was most unique, which was exemplary,” McGreevey told the gathering at the Atlantic City Medical Center. He called me actions of first responders and other rescuers selfless.
“It is the best face of America It is the best face of New Jersey,” he said.
The collapse of five floors of the 10-story garage happened minutes before 11 a.m. on Oct. 30, killing four construction workers and injuring nearly two-dozen more.
But Thursday was a time to honor those whose sacrifices saved hundreds more.
“Kenny, they say you saved eight guys,” McGreevey told Galloway Township resident Kenny Leeds, 40, a carpet layer for Tropicana Leeds shrugged off the praise. He said he was among a team of men who heard about the collapse while working in the casino’s South Tower and quickly went to the garage roof to help the injured, bringing several down to the street in elevators.
“We just ran over and did what we had to do,” Leeds said after the ceremony with the governor.
“That day I spoke to women who knew in short order they were ‘widows,” McGreevey told the crowd of rescuers Thursday. “But they were also bolstered by your bravery and your strength.”