QUEENS — When al-Qaida blew up two U.S. embassies in 1998, Detective Patrick Pogan was on the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force helping dispatch investigators to the twin crime scenes in Africa.
Then, on 9/11, Pogan served as a first responder to the World Trade Center attack.
A decade later, after Hurricane Sandy devastated the city’s coastline, the retired NYPD expert on weapons of mass destruction and hazardous materials found a way to continue assisting people facing devastating losses.
As a member of HEART 9/11, an all-volunteer organization of former first responders, Pogan and hundreds of other retired police officers and firefighters have put their skills and energy to use and have rebuilt 170 homes — for free.
“We just go in there and, over the course of a weekend, we gut a home down to the studs, call in the carpenters and tapers and masons who show up, and everything is redone,” the 56-year-old retired detective told “On The Inside."
William Keegan, a highly decorated retired Port Authority Police Department lieutenant, was the driving force behind HEART 9/11 — which stands for Healing, Emergency, Aid Response Team.
“There were so many of us hanging around after the work was done at Ground Zero,” Keegan said. “I thought the government had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making us the best trained people we could be, so why not get together and do on a voluntary basis what we were trained to do?"
HEART 9/11 was born with a mission to help “alleviate the suffering of individuals and communities coping with disasters and related trauma,” Keegan said.
Not surprising, hundreds of first responders lined up to help rebuild homes — and lives.
HEART 9/11 received funding from The Robin Hood Foundation, which had raised millions of dollars from their world-famous “12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief" at Madison Square Garden, featuring Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and The Who.
Robin Hood initially donated $390,000, expecting to restore 100 homes, but when HEART 9/11 rebuilt 170 dwellings with the money, the charity pledged another $130,000 for the repair of 50 more homes.
“HEART 9/11 embedded themselves in the recovery," Robin Hood spokesman, Patty Smith, said, "and became a true partner — in every sense of the word — to the residents in need.”
Joining forces with members belonging to Laborers' Local 79, the carpenters' union, and Building Works, a trade apprenticeship program, HEART 9/11 zeroed in on homeowners with the greatest need, the elderly and the disabled living in hard-hit Gerritsen Beach, Brighton Beach, the Rockaways and on Staten Island.
“People were literally living hand to mouth, just trying to make ends meet,” Keegan said.
“They did not know how to put their lives back together,” he continued. “We showed up with our badges and explained that we were not businessmen trying to make money off them.”
That helped build trust, "and it was a new beginning, an opportunity to make them even better than they were before,” he said.
“When we finished a home, the people who were lost and hopeless turned to us and cried,” Pogan said. “And for a few minutes, it made us feel sad because we did this to bring them joy, and to know they are not forgotten.
"Then we all smiled, knowing they are always tears of joy."