I watched some of the videos shot in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. They provided poignant glimpses into ordinary people’s reactions during the traumatic and grisly terrorist attacks. I knew what was going to happen, of course, but I could not keep myself from silently warning onlookers and rescue workers to get away from the twin towers because I knew they would crumble. I guess it’s just human nature to want to change the outcome of a tragic historical event. We do this all the time when we watch a movie. Real life is no different. One of the observations that came from some of the videos shot by witnesses to the destruction and awful loss of life was how the crisis smelled. Having worked a few crime scenes – murders, house fires, arsons and such – I know how the sense of smell affects one’s reaction and demeanor. For years, I carried a dab of mentholated salve with me in case I was dispatched to an emergency that involved fire or blood. It’s a way to cope with the smell. I learned about strong salve from an uncle who loved to hunt wild game. You shove the salve up your nose to lessen the impact of the stench of blood. Some folks involved in the butchering of livestock do the same thing. Blood stinks. Burned things stink. Decomposed things stink. The smell of death and destruction is incapacitating for some people. This stuff you see on television where crime scene investigators go about their business without nose protection, their hair flowing in the breeze and faces unprotected is not entirely accurate. Yeah, they wear gloves. But you don’t want spattered evidence invading your eyes or nose, either. It’s entertaining TV, but many emergency responders have tricks they use so the smell won’t be overpowering and compromise their powers of observation or their skills. That being said, there is also reason to not diminish the smell and let it hit you full force because that can be a vital resource in evaluating a crime scene. Nevertheless, the assault on one’s total being at a crime scene or emergency is beyond belief – and hopefully beyond the experience – of most civilians. In war, it’s worse, and New York City was a war zone on 9/11. The views of 9/11 came with some fairly detailed descriptions of the smell of the burning buildings, the objects being blown to the street, and the sweat emanating from rescuers and bystanders. Some onlookers got close enough to get a whiff of death. When the towers fell, creating twin dust storms that enveloped everybody and everything for blocks, noses and eyes were assailed without mercy. The sensory experience cannot be washed away. I think most people who were there are dealing with what happened, but some things just don’t wear off. I could see the panic, the rank fear, on the people as they tried to outrun the boiling clouds of dust and debris. The firefighters, police officers and EMTs ducked momentarily, but they didn’t run. They literally shouted at the devil, then counterattacked as best they could. Courage is almost an appropriate word here, but we really don’t have anything in our language that applies to the conduct of these wonderful, battered and grim-covered men and women who let nothing turn them from their self-imposed duty. Think about that. Who could possibly blame anyone in uniform from backing off and waiting until they at last could rinse the crap off their faces? But these heroes did not go to get relief. Relief had to catch up to them. In the streets that changed to choking dust pits in the blink of a grit-filled eye, it was hard to breathe, much less smell. And they stayed. We know how memories stick with us. We know how words or phrases can trigger pleasant thoughts. We know how aromas can take us to happy places like grandmother’s kitchen or the deep woods or even the race track. Now let us ask ourselves how we would have reacted on 9/11, facing what the rescuers took on, without flinching. I like to believe I could do something positive and not simply gawk for a while and then flee. I do not know. Perhaps I could operate on the periphery and maybe tote bottled water to the crews. I understand enough not get in the way of the pros. If you can safely answer yes, you could pass the test, God bless you. If you realize the answer must be no, do not be ashamed. We had plenty to do in the days after 9/11 through giving blood, sending donations and supporting relief and rebuilding efforts. Not everyone is a hero. Not everyone can do what the champions at 9/11 accomplished. But there is always something good everybody can do no matter how squeamish. The sights, the sounds and the smell of battle – and street crime, like 9/11, is a battle – are not tolerable for many people. However, our support and energy is very important later. We’ll be needed because of the men and women who willingly bust down the door to hell so there will be an aftermath. I learned a lot from the 9/11 videos, but I’m glad to say I didn’t discover anything about those who protect, serve and rescue that I didn’t already know. Larry Clark is a Record staff writer. Reach him at .