Hundreds of millions of people can remember where they were when New York’s World Trade Center came under attack in 2001. Danny Nazaruk lived that experience. Nazaruk was managing a United Rentals branch in Connecticut that year, but happened to be in Manhattan that day.

He remembers the first moments of 9/11 as, “just somehow managing to get myself down there. We set up a camp by the South Street Seaport, and another one by the West Side Highway. We started coordinating tractor-trailers full of light towers, generators and reach forklifts for Ground Zero and delivering them at night.”

man smiling sitting at desk with hands clasped
“We’re used to heading toward what everyone’s running away from, says Danny Nazaruk of his background in disaster response. “With COVID, we had to figure out the answers.”

Fast-forward 11 years, when Hurricane Sandy battered the coast of New York and New Jersey, swamping Manhattan. Once again, Nazaruk was in the thick of it. “We did a ton of preparation leading up to the storm, and then everyone went home and hunkered down and held on for dear life. When the dust settled, I took inventory of what’s important. My wife and kids were safe, my house was livable, I got the generator started — and then I went and did what we do at United Rentals. We help.”

Nazaruk has responded to countless disasters over his 26 years in industry, but when COVID arrived in 2020, it was unfamiliar emergency territory for everyone. He explains: “This time, our equipment couldn’t solve the problem. We’re used to loading trucks and heading toward what everyone else is running away from. With COVID, we didn’t have those immediate solutions. As leaders, we had to figure out what the answers were.”

Everything in their power

Nazaruk, now an area general manager in the New York/New Jersey metro district, is responsible for six branches and 167 people. He says that everyone felt the same concerns that were universal at the time, “but there was never a feeling that the company wasn’t doing everything in its power to keep us safe. And without a doubt, everyone still feels that way.”

While not directly involved with the Emergency Operations Center, Nazaruk did arrange the storage and distribution of thousands of masks in his region as part of United Rentals’ COVID response plan. He notes that the branches have become secure environments where the company’s safety protocols protect the teams from adverse effects.

“The communication has been fantastic. In the beginning, there were constant conference calls with HR, the legal team, the store managers, the district managers. Now that we all know more, we need fewer calls, but those corporate advisors are still available to us.”

Nazaruk offers an impressive example of ERT diligence close to home: “New Jersey suddenly mandated that businesses must take the temperature of all employees when they come to work each day. The ERT notified us at the exact same time New Jersey announced it — it was instantaneous. They’re on top of everything.”

Unsung heroes

Nazaruk notes that while COVID has been challenging at times, it hasn’t been a deterrent, “because this company is made up of close-knit teams. Our people understand it’s about keeping each other safe. And it’s the HR people and the legal team that are some of the unsung heroes of this. They’re the ones who do all the legwork and the research. They’re the ones who keep up with every state and province, and our operations in Europe, and give us guidance.”

Nearly a year into leading his area through the pandemic, Nazaruk says the Emergency Response plan for combatting COVID embodies the company’s “1UR” culture.

“I don’t think I could ever do anything else, to be honest. Everybody wants to be able to help, but most people have no way to act on that. We’re fortunate enough to work for a company where we can actually act on what we feel in our heart. There’s a sense of pride in being a part of something that helps people, and there’s even more pride in knowing that it’s United Rentals that’s doing it.”

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