Every September 11 (and indeed nearly every other day of the year), I spend much of the time period from 8:46 am (first crash) till 10:29 am (fall of second tower), thinking about the remarkable manner in which so many people responded to the challenge of their lives 11 years ago.
I think particularly about the 443 men and women who, as first responders, rushed to the World Trade Center and gave their lives. That’s about 14 seconds per person.
Fourteen seconds for Pat Brown. At an apartment fire a decade before 9/11, Brown and his crew were on the roof of a burning building, with two men desperately hanging out a window. A rope rescue was in order, but there was nothing on the roof to anchor the man holding the rope. So the rest of his crew strained to hold him in place, another firefighter was lowered to the window. Brown knew that when the desperate men were pulled, one at a time, from the window and their weight doubled the burden, all of the men involved might very well plunge to the ground; a similar catastrophe had happened to one of Brown's close friends years earlier. Did Brown stand back and hope for the best? No, he lay down on the ledge of the building, letting out the rope and guiding his men inch-by-inch through the delicate operation unti both victims were saved. On 9/11, Pat Brown led his crew into the WTC, and was last heard from on the 35th floor. His final recorded words: "Apparently it's above the 75th floor. I don't know if they got there yet. Okay, Three Truck and we are still heading up. Okay? Thank you."
Fourteen seconds for my friend, John Moran, who had been injured during the devastating 2001 Father’s Day fire that killed three firemen. On 9/11, John ended his shift and was getting in his car to go home, but instead literally fought his way to the WTC and shouted as he ran in, “I’m going to make a difference here today.”
Fourteen seconds for Timothy Stackpole, who had suffered horrifying injuries in a fire years before, and battled with the fire department medical staff simply for the right to return to work, only to then give his life on 9/11.
Fourteen seconds for Moira Smith, a police officer who stormed into one of the towers to find the revolving doors were preventing people from fleeing quickly enough. So she shot out a giant plate glass window, allowing the lobby to empty and, with the lobby cleared, ran upstairs to guide thousands of frightened people out of the building.
Fourteen seconds for Stephen Siller, who was on his way to play golf, but hearing the news, picked up his fire gear and headed to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to enter lower Manhattan. With his truck hopelessly blocked by traffic, he ran through the mile-long tunnel on foot in full gear, and perished.
And 28 seconds for the Langone family. Peter Langone was a fireman about whom was said he "had only one speed, and that was fast forward." Thomas Langone was an officer in the police Emergency Services Unit. He collected 42 medals in 18 years and went to Oklahoma City in 1995 to help recovery efforts after the bombing there. Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma said at his funeral that Officer Langone and his colleagues "brought with them honor, courage, humor and occasionally a funny accent." Mayor Giuliani, speaking at the joint funeral, told the four children of the Langone brothers that "We owe you a great deal….it will be paid back."
For 103 minutes, I think about every one of those 443 ordinary people who did remarkable things and whom we owe a great deal.