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When we're in there, because our visibility's poor and our stairway's quasi intact, we had no concept of what it was like outside. We know there's twisted steel. We can see that in front of us, big mountains of it. But we're not sure if the whole building fell, you know. If the whole building fell, we had to be entombed in a 106 stories of rubble. We're thinking that maybe there was a partial collapse. The collapse itself in my mind lasted only about 30 seconds. You look at the tapes, it was probably half of that or it was probably only about 15 seconds. I said no, this whole building can't fall that quickly, I thought that maybe we had a partial collapse.
Once we finally made it out, once we finally exited the stairway, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, you know. The first thing I saw was the corner, the facade, that's still left standing. What an eerie sight that was. There were two times that I felt that I was like oh, my God, I can't believe I survived it, which was right after the collapse stopped. When we were coughing and gagging, I was like, oh, man I can't believe I just survived that.
Basically, that stairway was our life raft. And don't be so quick to jump out of the life raft. If you see an island five miles away, don't be so quick to jump out, float a little closer to the island, make sure that that's good.
We were very conscious. We were making incredibly lucid decisions about what we should do, what we shouldn't do. We didn't want to make a move just to make a move. We wanted to make sure it was going to be the right move. We didn't want to backtrack anything or have to rescue somebody from making a bad decision. We were closely evaluating everything that we did.
But once 43 Truck came, basically we were no longer their mission because we could get ourselves out, but we told them you got to get her out, she needs a Stokes basket. We're shot, we can't do it. And we told them about the chief and the guys from 39 Engine. We gave them a new mission, so they felt very useful and they did a heck of a job.
The fire department asked me to go to Vienna, Austria, to receive an award on behalf of the fire department. This world body calls a Men's World Day and they give out several awards. They give out one for entertainment. They give out for physics. They give out one for medicine. And New York City firemen were given the men of the year award. And it was quite a quite a weekend. It started out as a press conference on a Saturday and had a big room filled with press and everything. Ironically, they didn't ask me any questions during the press conference. They focused on Ted Turner. He was getting a media award, you know. Then they focused on Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the presenter of our award. But after the award ceremony, the press surrounded me. They wanted to know all kinds of different things about our experience.
The award ceremony itself was very impressive. It was this big gala at the emperor's palace in Vienna. And the award was given to me by Mikhail Gorbachev and Paul McCartney. And Paul McCartney was very happy to present the award to me. The organizers later told me that he only agreed to come when he heard that I was going to be there. I found out later, talking to him, that his father was a fireman.
He was in New York on Sept. 11. He was in an airplane awaiting takeoff at Kennedy Airport when they shut down the airport, and he had a view of lower Manhattan and he saw the whole thing unfold from the airport. He came to Ladder 6 to get T-shirts for a concert that they had. The day he was there, I was covering in Coney Island. I was working in the 43 Battalion in Coney Island.
They didn't have any T-shirts for him because when people came with donations, they were given a shirt, to thank them for donation, so their supply locker was tapped out. When Paul McCartney's fiancee came to ask for the shirts, they said we don't have any - well, wait a minute, and they gave them their personal shirts and says here, tell Paul that these have been in real fires, you know, so the shirts that he's wearing in his video are guys' personal shirts. Once he heard that the captain of Ladder 6 was coming to Vienna, he made the decision to come. That was an honor that I never thought I'd see. I brought a couple of shirts and hats, and I saw him after the awards ceremony. I says I hear you got some used T-shirts for the concert. He said, yeah, how did you know? I said oh, my guys told me. I said I got some brand-new ones for you if you want, so I gave him a couple of brand-new shirts.