The following story is dedicated to all the rescuers killed at the World Trade Center incident on Sept. 11, 2001. This tragedy portrayed the sheer evil hidden in man’s darker side and, in turn, the heroes who rise above it all. (Note: Because this article was written five months after the event...
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I turn my attention to where the World Trade Center once stood. The bizarre scene is displayed before me. All that is left is a large mass of burning, smoking debris, yet surprisingly, only a few stories tall. I’m guessing 50 feet high or so. This is where two 110-story buildings were just a few short hours ago? The thought of countless visits to the complex – the mall, meetings, breakfasts and lunches with Alan Reiss. Alan is the exact opposite of what you may perceive a man in his position to be. You may think someone who is in charge of all day-to-day operations of the world’s largest office complex and responsible for the lives of over 100,000 people a day is unapproachable, self-centered, aloof. No, Alan is one of the kindest, respectful, most warmhearted, easygoing people I know. That’s why I’ve always gravitated toward folks like him and Larry. They’re just simply “good people,” which makes me wonder why anyone would want to kill them and so many more innocent people. It just doesn’t make sense.
As I stand there staring intently straight through the smoky air toward where the imposing twin towers once soared, my mind momentarily wanders back to a breakfast Alan and I had one day last year. He surprised me by taking me up to the “Windows on the World” restaurant at the top of Tower 1. He thought I might like the view while we ate. Unfortunately, when we were up there, low-lying clouds moved in below us, obscuring our view of the busy city below. It didn’t matter, though, as we had a great time talking up a storm anyway. I could have sat there for hours listening to Alan tell me of the latest adventures at the complex. This man’s pretty much seen it all, yet I know he wasn’t prepared for what happened today, Sept. 11. No one could be. None of the people who came to work here today envisioned what was going to occur as they poured their first cups of hot coffee and opened their morning e-mails. Looking out over the city for a few moments before beginning the day from their offices high up in two of the tallest buildings in the world. Minutes later, they’re diving out that very same window to certain death below, some hand-in-hand with co-workers. Plenty of time to ponder the horror of their actions on the way down from 1,000 feet up.
As I stare up into the sky to where the restaurant once was, I consider that if I had taken my regular flight and dined with Alan this morning up on the 107th floor, what might I have done if I were in the position as those people? Staring at certain death, with no way out, up or down … elevators and stairwells destroyed “ fire everywhere. I have difficulty contemplating the thought, and what my decision might be. After all, I’m a survivor by nature. My training and experience as a former firefighter would tell me to not give up, to never give in to fire, to find a way out and to lead others to safety.
But what if there is no way out and you feel the building shifting and you know there is no chance of the fire department extinguishing this much fire this high up. The fire is working its way toward you and time is running out. You will not accept the fate of burning to death; no firefighter would. You are confronted with a sense of finality. The decision settling into my mind disturbs me, yet I realize it is the logical and correct one.
The fleeting thought quickly dissolves and I am still standing fixated on the pile of rubble where the towers used to be – and the innocent people who once occupied them. It is hard to fathom what it must have been like, for the civilians and firefighters alike, before and just after the buildings crashed down around them. I do not wish to stare anymore at where thousands died only hours ago. I look around, expecting to see tons of glass and furniture everywhere, but find none. How did 220 floors of furnishings disappear? Was it vaporized by the weight of the collapsing structures? I discover later that I’m not the first person to note this strange phenomena.
I continue circling the site, “sizing up” the scope of the disaster. It is beyond comprehension. Two buildings disappear, many more are badly damaged and it suddenly occurs to me that we are instantly at war. A war with an unseen enemy and possibly with no end. Things are clearly going to get ugly between us and them and this may not be the worst of it. That thought alone disturbs me. This isn’t the way I envisioned the first day of my business trip turning out.
In between sticking my head into lobbies and checking for people as I continue making my way around the area, I wonder if all the surrounding buildings have been searched yet. I know a lot of firefighters are missing and I’m curious if enough personnel exist to accomplish all that has to be done – search and rescue on the debris pile, searching exposures, suppressing fires in nearby buildings and at the collapse zone, in addition to countless car fires. How are stations being backfilled? How is the city responding to other emergencies? How do you deal with something this big? The drain on resources must be tremendous. They probably need all the help they can get.