Company shined a light during darkest moments of 9/11 attacks

Musco Lighting lit some of the biggest events and landmarks, from Lady Liberty to MLB stadiums to Mount Rushmore. When America was under attack, they kept the lights on.


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The rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site went on until May 2002. One company did its best to provide light during a very dark time.

Musco Lighting, an Oskaloosa, Iowa-based company, lit some of the biggest events and landmarks, from Lady Liberty to MLB stadiums to Mount Rushmore. When America was under attack, they kept the lights on.

"Our four trucks went right down to the site. Literally, right on ground zero. We were right on the pile," said Jeff Rogers, president and CEO of Musco Lighting.

Four Musco Mobile Lighting trucks used to light college football games and movie sets were now lighting a desperate mission to find survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Just the night before, crews from the company had been lighting the Gravity Games in Rhode Island, less than four hours away.

One phone call that Tuesday morning set things into motion.

"We called out there and caught up with the guys," said Joe Crookham, co-founder of Musco Lighting. "They were having breakfast, talked to them about it and said, 'Not telling you what to do because it's really a tough situation, a dangerous thing. And I don't know any more about it than anybody else does, but I think we could be helpful to them. It's up to you guys to decide what you want to do about it.'"

They left their breakfast sitting on the table, got in their trucks and headed to New York City.

Meanwhile, two Musco Mobile Lighting trucks left Oskaloosa at noon on Sept. 11, 2001, headed for the Pentagon.

"We didn't have final clearance yet," Rogers said. "We got it en route and they went directly down to the Pentagon."

At the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C., the damage caused by the plane crash was limited to the building. But ground zero in New York City was massive.

"The debris... The dust was two feet deep. It was a horrific site," Rogers said.

The twin towers and another skyscraper had collapsed and many other buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed.

"We had several trucks that blew tires on the way in there because there was so much debris," Rogers said. "So they were literally driving on the rims to get to the site set up in order to be able to put the lights on."

When the wind would blow through it would kick up ash, caking everything.

"We'd see that through the equipment, having to keep clean air filters and generator trucks and stuff like that," said Jerome Fynaardt, a mobile sales manager. "But also, at the same time, make sure our team members were safe."

The work conditions were life-threatening as the chances of a building collapsing were high. Spotty cell phone service made communication a struggle.

"There was no way for us to talk to our techs. Once they got to ground zero, they basically were on their own," said Rogers.

Add in the problems created when city, state and federal agencies who are all responding have no way to coordinate their efforts.

"The difficulty in anybody being able to make decisions was just amazing," Crookham said.

Nine days later, Crookham and his management team were able to visit the Pentagon and ground zero.

"It was a very smoky, smelly, eerie feeling when I first got on-site," Fynaardt said.

They had watched the scenes on television.

"The sight of everything was just overwhelming. It's even hard to describe today," Rogers said.

It hardly captured the reality.

"Just the smell of it was just of burnt," Fynaardt said.

"The glass in the streets," Rogers said. "You saw people's personal effects from their offices. Where you saw pencils. You saw — it was just... heartbreaking to think of what all had gone on and what those people were dealing with."

It was months of physically and emotionally draining work for the crews on-site, and those working together in Iowa. The team at Musco was proud to do it.

"Every American wanted to help," Rogers said. "We all wanted to do something. We all wanted to participate. We all wanted to make it better. And we were very fortunate to figure out a way to do that."

The tall booms of the Musco trucks provided light in a dark time. They became something much more special in honoring a request by the New York Fire Department.

"They wanted to show symbolism and our boom was the tallest thing that was structurally sound at ground zero so they asked us to fly the flag."

A beacon of pride and hope and later tattered and ash-covered, a symbol of the hell they survived.

"The stress and the struggle that everybody was dealing with on a minute by minute, hour by hour basis out there. At that point in time, I'd never seen anything like that, and, obviously, the world hadn't seen many things like that," Rogers said.