WEST CHESTER, PA — The Chester County Sheriff’s Office recently honored Sgt. Paul Bryant, Jr., who had traveled with his former K-9 partner Azeem to Ground Zero to search for missing persons shortly after 9-11. Humble and quiet about his 2001 role in New York since he came to Chester County six years ago, Bryant’s recognition as a hero at this past Saturday’s Phillies game was what finally tipped off his current coworkers about his past service.
Forty-eight hours after 9-11, Bryant of the Philadelphia Police Department at that time, his former K-9 partner Azeem and Kevin Pancoast—an officer with the Deptford (New Jersey) Police Department who served as his “spotter”—responded to a call from the City of New York for cadaver dog assistance. The trio traveled to a site that looked like a MASH unit, according to Bryant, close to the collapsed buildings. He and Pancoast received tetanus and other immunization boosters, special identification badges, helmets and a room assignment in a nearby school where they could take breaks and sleep.
Wearing uniforms and protective masks, Bryant with K-9 Azeem and Pancoast worked 20 hours in two days. Bryant and Azeem searched the World Trade Center rubble for bodies and Pancoast watched out for the safety of the K-9 team. Azeem and Bryant worked in the giant pile that smelled of jet fuel and burned wreckage. When the team left New York before dawn the second morning to return home, people lined the streets to wave and express thanks.
Two weeks later, Bryant and members of the Philadelphia Police Department K-9 team returned to the site to clean the New York Police Department’s K-9 kennels so officers there could get relief. They also took Tastykakes and pretzels to those still working in the area.
Horrors aside, Bryant said he will never forget the response of so many people. “It felt like we were all one—black, white, individuals, police, business owners, search-and-rescue teams from all over the world.” People and businesses provided food, phone batteries, clothing and dog food. A portable veterinary station gave Azeem a bath and a medical exam.
Commemorating 20 years after 9-11, this past Saturday the Phillies gave Sgt. Bryant—now supervisor of the Chester County Sheriff Office’s K-9 Unit and a trainer for other handlers and K-9s that track drugs, explosives and cadavers—and his current K-9 partner, Don, a hero’s reception in the diamond. Photos of Bryant throwing the first pitch at the Sept. 11, 2002 Phillies game, Azeem on the Philadelphia Art Museum steps, and Bryant and Don flashed on the Jumbotron’s screen as they waved from the field to cheering spectators.
“On September 11th each year, we recall where we were and mourn lost loved ones. But we don’t hear much about Chester County heroes who were first responders at the World Trade Center 20 years ago,” said Chester County Sheriff Fredda Maddox. “Today we celebrate our own—Sgt. Paul Bryant, Jr.”
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