In the days following the horror of September 11th, 2001 a Hatzalah volunteer, who responded to the World Trade Center as the towers collapsed, penned this letter the following day.
I write this with thanks to the Ribbono Shel Olam, to be able to write it, and not be written about!
As we were dispatched to the Twin Towers for a fire, not knowing what we were getting in to, I rode in the Hatzoloh ambulance to Manhattan. We were able to clearly see the upper portion of the towers on fire from the Prospect Expway on the way into the Battery Tunnel.
As we got out of the tunnel and turned on to West St. I saw body parts all over the street. I saw a part of the airplane, it looked like a engine behind a burned car. As we got closer, we were told to park the ambulance right near the towers. I think we were originally right behind the towers. Then there was a report that a 3rd plane may be coming into the building, so we got back on the ambulance and started to drive a little further away. Then we were told it was all clear and that we should park the ambulance on the street behind the towers.
We were parked and waiting for directions from the Command Center which was being set up in the lobby of the towers. While we were waiting, a lot of Hatzoloh members gathered near the ambulances watching the towers burn. All that was between the towers and us was 1 building. As we waited, we started to see people jumping out of the windows of the towers below the fire floors. I guess their choice was frying in the building or jumping to their deaths. A site I don’t think I well ever forget. We just started to say Tehillim. How helpless we all felt knowing that there is nothing that we can do, besides watching them fall to their deaths.
As we were waiting for instructions. We heard this loud rumble, I looked up and saw the tower starting to come straight down on itself. I along with every one else ran for our lives. About a half a block down there was this tremendous cloud of smoke, dust and debris that caught up with us. At that point it became dark, so dark you couldn’t see an inch in front of you. I wasn’t able to breathe, the smoke and debris was so thick. I can only compare it to putting a vacuum cleaner bag full of dust over your head and trying to see and breath with it on. It was impossible to keep my eyes open, they were burning from everything in the air. As I was running I started to get very short of breath. The air was so thick you can cut it! It was like Makos Choshech.
As we were running another Hatzoloh member tripped, I stopped to help him get up, B”H he was able to get up. I think he would have been stampeded on by all the masses of people running. At the same time I noticed a 2-way radio on the floor, in all the chaos for some reason (Hashgocho) I picked it up. About a half a block down the smoke and debris caught up to us. We couldn’t see a thing nor were we able to breathe. I knew that I had to find shelter some how, not knowing what was coming off the tower or how far it was flying. I considered hiding under a fire truck, but It was getting hard to breathe.
I was getting out of breath and knew I had to get into a building. I ran into an alley way and stopped running. It was getting very hard to breathe and I was breathing very fast, from running. I sat myself down and thought to myself that this was probably going to be the end! I figured if I keep running I will definitely not survive. I will need too much oxygen and there wasn’t much.
I knew there was a building somewhere in this courtyard I just had to calm down and find a window to break and climb in. At this time I heard people yelling if any body was around and I answered. We were still unable to see a thing. It was so quiet, not a sound. Some big guy tripped on me while I was sitting trying to calm down. He asked if I am person. I told him to hold on to me and together we will survive. We held on to each other and felt our way to a wall of a building. We were able to feel a big window and then followed it hoping to find a door.
There was a big plate glass door, it was locked. I went to grab my Hatzoloh radio and break the window but couldn’t find it, I grabbed the radio that I found in the street which “happened to be” a Hatzoloh radio that someone else lost and started to bang on the glass hopping to break it. It wouldn’t break. B”H I had that radio, cause it was approximately twice the size of my regular radio. I don’t know if anybody would have heard me banging on the glass with that radio. Somebody came to the door from inside and motioned to me to stop banging. He opened the door and let us in.
The lobby of this building was a little better than out side. There was light and water. We were all choking on the debris and smoke. We stayed in this lobby approximately.15 minutes or so, till the second tower collapsed. B”H I had picked up the radio, and I was able to communicate to let the other Hatzoloh members know which building I’m in and that I am alive (300 Albany Street).
It was horrendous listening to fellow Hatzoloh members yelling for help on the radio not knowing exactly where they were or if they will survive. One member was yelling and crying that we was trapped and surrounded by fire all around and he doesn’t know where he is. Thinking back this was a period of time, just listening to the Hatzoloh radio that we knew that we were being judged up above.
At that point we were told to get out of the building for fear that it also may collapse. Someone handed out dust masks they found. I grabbed a shirt and wet it and ripped it in half. I gave one half to a fireman so that we would have something to try to filter our breathing. As we ran out into the street back into this chaos, we didn’t know what would fall on us. I saw an Hatzoloh Ambulance, I jumped into it, there other members on it already. We all needed oxygen badly. We were covered from head to toe in this debris. The ambulance was covered inside and outside with all this matter. The ambulance I was on was the one I came with to the city. I had my paramedic equipment on it was also covered with this stuff. (I have no idea where my equipment is now. Approximately 30 thousand dollars worth.) We all put on oxygen masks, we had to share it since we all needed it and there was only so much. We took turns, each wanted the other one to have it, each saying you need it more than I. MI KIAMCHO YISROEL! I put on a pulse oximeter on myself to see how much oxygen I was getting, it read 93-94 a little low, normal is 97-100.
The ambulance wasn’t able to go any further. We were at the waterfront a block or two from the towers. the police brought in boats, to ferry people off Manhattan to Liberty Park in Jersey. I knew I had to get out of there, I had a hard time breathing.
I got off the ambulance and went toward the boats. They were allowing woman and children on first. I went to the front of the line and told them I was a Paramedic, they let me on the boat. The helplessness I felt standing there without any equipment trying to help people. There was a fireman that couldn’t see. He had so much debris in his eyes. I found a bottle of water on the boat and tried flushing out his eyes. There was a woman from the Chief Medical Examiners office on the boat, she had a broken leg. The Chief Medical Examiner had some lacerations to his hand. I told him I am glad I can meet him standing up! There was a person having a asthma attack. I tried my best to help the ones I was able to.
When we got to Liberty Park, there was a huge tent set up to triage patients coming off the boats. I helped some firemen. There was Fire Chief Murphy whom was having chest pain. I gave him some oxygen and got a ambulance crew to get him to a hospital. He was very thankful to myself and Hatzoloh. I helped with some other patients for about an hour, when it all started to catch up with me.
I haven’t eaten all day. I had been in shul in the morning and was up to Borochu when I answered a Hatzoloh call. From the call I took my sons to yeshiva and then went straight to the city. On the way into the city I reminded my self to say S’hma. I said Shmona Esrei about 1 or 2 in the afternoon, while I was being treated for exhaustion and smoke inhalation. They took me to Bayonne Hospital where the staff was unbelievable. They couldn’t believe that we survived. One Jewish Dr. walked into the room and looked at me and said Boruch Hashem!
My roommate in the hospital was a paramedic from Metro Care, that was in their Command Center when it got hit from debris from the building as it collapsed. He doesn’t know how he got out of it. After all the dust settled, that Command Center was on its side in flames. He was banged up, and will be OK, IY”H.
At the hospital, I was quickly assessed in the emergency room and then sent up to a room, where they did blood tests and chest X-ray. B”H all looked ok. I was discharged about 4pm. Some Hatzoloh members made their way to the hospital, and we were more than happy to see each other alive. 2 of these guys were on the way into the building when it collapsed.
We had to get back to Brooklyn, but all the bridges and tunnels were closed. We went up to the cops and told them we are paramedics that were just heading back to the city, they asked for some ID, and let us through all the way to Brooklyn.
The nissim that we all experienced as individuals and as a group of Chevra Hatzoloh is indescribable. the chesed we all saw from the Ribbono Shel Olam is boundless.
B”H all Hatzoloh members are accounted for, some with broken limbs and scratches and bruises – NON THE LESS ALIVE!
We should all say Tehillim and Daven for those injured, and those still trapped and unaccounted for, as of yet.
Rabbi Price, a Hatzoloh member said yesterday, that now we have some understanding of Aveinu Malkeinu Kosveinu Bsefer Z’chuyos!
There are numerous stories of nissim and chesed, that we were zoicha to witness and be a part of, in this unfortunate situation.
Chasdei Hashem Ki Lo Somnu Ki Lo Cholu Rachamov!
When I got up this morning and said Modeh Ani, It had a whole different meaning. The Brocho of M’chayae Hameissim has a different meaning. Modim took allot longer than usual. I wasn’t in a rush to leave shul this morning. Life is to short and precious. Unfortunately it sometimes takes a situation like this to wake us up.
May we all have a K’siva V’chasima Tova, and may we know of no more tragedies and be witness to B’ias Goel Tzedek B’imheira V’yameinu, Amen.