On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement officers along with fire and EMS personnel, rushed to the burning towers of the World Trade Center to aid victims and lead them to safety. Due to their actions, it is estimated that more than 25,000 lives were saved.
But these lives saved came at a cost. More than 400 law enforcement officers and fire fighters were killed at the World Trade Center site. While the memory of each of these lifesavers remains in our hearts and minds, there is one officer whose memory continues to live on within the Coast Guard – badge #21630, Santos Valentin.
Valentin, a member of the New York City Police Department for 17 years, was assigned to Emergency Service Squad 7. After the impact of the first plane, putting the safety of others before his own, he climbed the South Tower and helped to evacuate the thousands of people who worked in the building.
As fate would have it, his unit’s last radio call was from the twentieth floor of Two World Trade Center. Shortly thereafter the building collapsed and Valentin was killed.
Eleven years after his sacrifice, Valentin’s legacy of serving others and saving lives continues as he is the namesake of one of the canines in a Coast Guard canine explosive detection team.
Petty Officer 1st Class John Mitchell has been working with canine Valentin for the past two years as the two respond to national specialized security events and deploy aboard ships for maritime explosive threat missions.
“We’re an extremely small community expected to cover large portions of the country,” said Mitchell. “Our expertise is requested by other law enforcement communities for our specialized capabilities. We bring a lot to the table as far as our experience and the fact that we can work in versatile environment.”
Last month, Mitchell and Valentin found their unique capabilities being requested by a familiar agency, the NYPD. The team was to deploy to New York City in support of security operations for the United Nations General Assembly. Since they were already in the city, they had a rare opportunity to meet Santos Valentin’s family and fellow police officers for the first time.
With family and friends gathered, they remembered the good-natured officer and the jokes he played. But along with the jokes was a true passion for helping others.
“He had a great sense of humor, but when the bell rang, he was all business, a true pro,” said Robert Zajac, a fellow police officer who worked with Valentin for four years. “Even if Santos knew the building was going to fall, he would have gone in to save as many people as possible.”
“It was very hard to lose Santos but it was his nature to save lives,” added Rosa Ferrer, Valentin’s sister. “He loved his job and always said he was willing to risk death to save another’s life.”
They also remembered how he had a great love for his family and friends, including his dog, Luger. Luger would often stay home while Valentin was on duty, and he would leave the Animal Planet channel playing to help Luger from feeling alone.
“Santos was a dog lover so it’s amazing he is now named after a law enforcement dog,” said Jasmine Ferrer, Valentin’s niece. “His story will live on through him.”
Indeed police officer Santos Valentin’s story will live on as his namesake continues to keep our nation secure and safe as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard.
With contributions from Petty Officer 2nd Class Erik Swanson.