The Fire Scene: Carrying Josephine

Carrying Josephine

For the Second Time, Rescuers Were in the Right Place to Help

Ten years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, we all watched in horror as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA, resulted in death and destruction on a scale most people had never experienced. On that day, however, at the World Trade Center, a small group of people survived and this is their story.

FDNY Captain Jay Jonas of Ladder 6 was in the North Tower with his men. After deciding it was time to climb down and get out of the building, Captain Jonas gave the order and the company began its descent. Along the way, they encountered a civilian who was still in the process of climbing down stairway B. Her name was Josephine Harris and she was moving slowly. The men of Ladder 6 took Josephine under their wings and slowed down to help carry, guide and encourage her out of the North Tower.

The going got awful slow and was getting slower until Josephine fell to the ground, unable to go any farther. Captain Jonas searched briefly for a chair on which to carry Josephine, with no success. That’s when it happened. The noise started low and quickly grew louder and louder. The vibrations increased and were coming closer by the second. The building was collapsing around them and they were all unable to get out.

In a few minutes, it was all over. The building was down and along with several other lucky people in stairway B, Captain Jonas, his men and Josephine were alive. They were banged up, choking from the dust and smoke and in darkness, but alive. Over the next several hours, the FDNY dispatched several teams and companies to locate Ladder 6 and eventually they were freed from the crumbled stairway where they survived the most deadly terrorist attack the United States had ever experienced.

Jump ahead to 2011 and Jay Jonas is now a deputy chief with the FDNY. Some of his men have retired and others are still on the job. Jay received a phone call from his former company, Ladder 6, informing him they had just received word from her sister that Josephine had passed away. Additionally, it looked like there wasn’t enough money for a decent burial for Josephine and Ladder 6 was calling their old captain for some advice.

Chief Jonas started making calls. He and Josephine had done interviews for an upcoming TV show and he called there to see whether they could assist. He also let the FDNY press office know and the story of Josephine’s death and how she survived the collapse with Ladder 6 on 9/11 hit the papers. The calls started coming in. A Manhattan funeral director provided the wake and funeral at no cost. He explained he was doing this in honor of the firefighters who 20 years earlier rescued his family from a building collapse. Arrangements were made to hold Josephine’s funeral in a Catholic church in downtown Manhattan. A call was even received from the office of the Archbishop of New York, asking whether the cardinal himself could officiate at Josephine’s funeral. Everything was falling into place nicely to ensure that Josephine was going to get the sendoff she deserved. Jay Jonas, along with the help and generosity of many other people, was taking care of Josephine again.

The day of the funeral arrived and Chief Jonas and several of the other men who helped carry her in 2001 were in position to carry Josephine again. Outside the church they each grasped the casket and slowly walked up the steps of St. Joseph’s Church on Sixth Avenue. They walked through the front entrance doors and into the vestibule and stopped, with one more set of doors to walk through before entering the church. While standing there, Chief Jonas felt an impulse to turn around. When he did, he was surprised to see former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani standing there, waiting to enter the church and pay his respects to Josephine.

So here they all were, the Archbishop of New York, the former mayor of the City of New York, the members of Squad 18, Engine 3, Engine 9 and Ladder 9, the Port Authority police officer who was trapped in stairway B along with many other members of the FDNY and, of course, the men of Ladder 6, led by their former skipper, Deputy Chief Jay Jonas. The ordinary woman who 10 years ago found herself in an extraordinary place was once again with her friends from Ladder 6, who once again found themselves carrying Josephine.