“Father” Juan Guzman, Savior of Distressed Souls at the GWB

By Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff

To those outside his Port Authority Police command at the George Washington Bridge, he is Officer Juan Guzman. To fellow officers who helped him patrol the world’s busiest bridge, he’s “Father” Guzman, with a unique ability to comfort the distressed souls he too frequently encountered during his tours.

Guzman and his colleagues at the GWB saved 70 lives in 2016 and reduced the number of people who jumped from the span from 18 in 2015 to 12 last year. Guzman, a married father of four assigned to the GWB command the past nine years, personally is credited with saving more than two dozen lives.

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“Life is precious. I try to establish a connection with them whether it’s about God, family or love,” said Guzman, who once saved a man’s life by kneeling down in prayer with him on the bridge while traffic roared past.

The veteran officer has earned numerous awards for his heroism, including the Port Authority Police Department’s (PAPD) Officer of the Year Award in 2015 and Officer of the Year in 2016 by the New Jersey Center of Excellence Crisis Intervention Team

PAPD Police Inspector Geraldo Silva, who was Guzman’s supervisor at the GWB, describes him as among the most “exceptional police officers” he’s ever known. “He works hard, he’s ethical, he’s reliable and he’s a go-to officer for both his supervisors and his peers,” said Silva.

Guzman once even thwarted a possible terrorist attack. In 2015, he spotted a suspicious loiterer on two separate occasions on the bridge. The FBI discovered the individual was an aeronautical student who Googled information about electronic circuitry, the construction of pressure cookers and the terrorist group ISIS, and later pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Promoted recently to detective, the officer began his law enforcement career with the New York Police Department, where he worked four years before joining the PAPD in 2002, just months after the 9/11 tragedy. He transferred to the GWB command in 2008, not far from the Washington Heights neighborhood where he grew up.

In 2010, Guzman was put to the test for the first time. While on patrol, he spotted a young woman who had already climbed over the railing and was staring down into the Hudson River. With adrenaline pumping and heart pounding, Guzman’s first reaction was to cuff her to the railing. Instead, he rushed over, and with help from other officers, hauled her back over.

“My actions that day prevented a family from mourning the death of a child,” said Guzman. “This was a very rewarding feeling for me.” Since then, he repeatedly demonstrated a calm and compassionate demeanor crucial to helping  save lives.

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PAPD Lt. Michael Hennessy and Officer Guzman accept the “Courage & Compassion Award” from Vantage Health System in 2015.

Last fall, Guzman was faced with two potential suicides within a 24-hour period. On September 23, Guzman and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Michael Hennessy, were responding to a report of a man threatening to jump. When they arrived, the man was already hanging over the railing. It took 16 minutes, but Guzman and Hennessy managed to persuade him to climb back.

The next day, Guzman was patrolling with his partner, Officer Lavern Watson, when they encountered a man who told them, ‘I came to jump.’ But instead of cuffing him, Guzman convinced the man to seek medical attention voluntarily.

“I try to give them back their dignity. I remind people in pain of the things in life that are the most precious to us all,” he said.

 

 

Posted in bridges, George Washington Bridge, GWB, NYPD, PANYNJ, PAPD, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Port Authority Police Department, Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Port Authority Police Emergency Services Unit: A Day in the Life of Training

By Rudy King, Media Relations Staff

Whether on a bridge, inside a tunnel or in the water, an elite Port Authority police squad known as the Emergency Services Unit, or ESU, is specially trained to respond to every conceivable dangerous situation. What they do is the real-life stuff of action-packed movie thrillers.

It goes beyond what cadets are taught at the Police Academy. For eight months, these law enforcement daredevils learn how to perform special ops under the most extreme conditions with the least disruption to Port Authority operations: at high altitudes, or using the deadliest weapons. And it goes without saying, they must learn to conquer their fears.

The training is part of the New York Police Department’s Specialized Training School (STS). Working alongside the ESU unit within the NYPD, for example, members of the Port Authority ESU were among the boots on the ground during one of the deadliest and most destructive storms to ever hit the region, Superstorm  Sandy. They rescued citizens and evacuated the elderly from senior centers.  They cleared debris and trees from roadways and performed grid searches for possible victims.

For more on ESU training, watch this vlog by Rudy King of the agency’s Media Relations department on a recent training on the George Washington Bridge by ESU candidates, as they underwent the harrowing experience of climbing slippery barrel cables on a drizzly and foggy day.

 

Posted in bridges, George Washington Bridge, GWB, PANYNJ, PAPD, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Winona Wingfield: Wayfinder at the Port Authority Bus Terminal

By Rudy King, Media Relations Staff

Winona Wingfield is the Hell’s Kitchen equivalent of Waze, the popular go-to navigational app for traffic and road information used worldwide.

She’s the human version of a wayfinder at the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) for almost 150,000 people who visit her information kiosk near the 8th Avenue entrance every year.

It’s been that way for more than 32 years. Wingfield joined the PABT in 1984 as an information agent where she learned the ropes by answering incoming phone calls. The Queens native soon earned a promotion to the next level, a post which she occupies today.

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Winona Wingfield inside her kiosk at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where she’s worked for more than 32 years.

Experienced commuters and newcomers alike queue at Wingfield’s window for a few moments of face time with her. They may speak different languages and hail from every walk of life, but most of them ask a variation on the same question: how best to navigate the wild world of New York City.

“It can be difficult sometimes, because I communicate with people in need, who are sometimes angry, stressed or in a rush, and on occasion in emergency situations,” Wingfield said.

Once Wingfield played a key role in returning a 15-year-old runaway to the safety of her family in Pennsylvania. The young woman had been missing from home for months when she turned up at the PABT. Wingfield’s instincts told her there “was something special about the girl.”

“I can’t recall now what she was wearing or what she looked like, but I just knew somehow she belonged somewhere. She looked like a person who had a family that cared about her,” said Wingfield.

Still, when the girl asked to use her phone, Wingfield hesitated. The use of personal phones on the job was strictly against the rules. Trusting her instincts, Wingfield handed the girl her phone anyway. The girl called her mother, who already had involved law enforcement. The call from Wingfield’s phone, and her conversation with the girl’s mother, helped authorities reunite the teenager with her family.

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Wingfield provides assistance to some 150,000 people every year.

While Wingfield usually doesn’t get involved in the lives of the strangers in her line, she tries to be as friendly as she can, as if she’s known them a lifetime. She answers every conceivable question from restroom facilities to bus and train departures, walking directions, bus routes, gate numbers and a thousand other requests.

In fact, her style of customer service is so fast and efficient it rivals the megahertz of a computer.

Asked about how she handles some 500 people per shift, Wingfield says she really doesn’t do anything special. When it comes to technology, she’s old school; her only equipment are schedules, a telephone, a CPU monitor and, perhaps the most important of all, an easy smile.

“My focus is that everyone who stops at the kiosk gets the assistance they need. That’s my main priority. It’s important to me,” she said.

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Wingfield provides assistance to travelers from every walk of life and to many for whom English is not their first language.  

Posted in bus terminal, NYC, PABT, PANYNJ, Port Authority Bus Terminal, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, transportation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,