Firefighter reflects

By Talesha Herbert

The stairways were packed, elevators weren’t working, radios were defective and a crashing sound came from above.

The sound was heard by New York City Fire Chief Richard Picciotto, who described his Sept. 11 experience inside the collapsing twin towers of the World Trade Center to a packed house Tuesday at the Holmes Student Center’s Duke Ellington Ballroom.

Picciotto recalled his 35th floor experience in the South Tower while the North Tower collapsed.

“We heard a crashing sound. It felt like it was coming right through us,” Picciotto said.

It was then that Picciotto heard on the radio that the North Tower had come down.

“I’m thinking about how many firemen were in the tower, friends and co-workers,” he added. “At this point, I knew it was a terrorist attack.”

Picciotto said he made his way down the tower helping as many people as he could.

It was at the 27th floor that he encountered a man typing on his computer refusing to leave, he said.

Picciotto said he tried to remove him physically.

The guy then gave me a “how dare you touch me,” he said.

Picciotto then went on to tell the audience about the 19th floor where a crowd of people weren’t moving on the stairwells. He said he told them not to stop, but to keep on going.

Picciotto also recalled his experience on the 12th floor.

There were firemen and policemen, but more surprisingly there were 40 to 50 disabled office workers who couldn’t make it out, he said.

Picciotto said he helped wheel and walk out people with disabilities who had crutches and wheelchairs.

“I wanted to be the last man down,” he continued.

Picciotto talked about the South Tower collapse.

“There was a tremendous noise, it was dark, we were tossed around,” he said.

At that point, Picciotto remembered he thought about dying.

“They say before you die your life flashes before you,” he said. “I thought of family, kids and friends.”

Picciotto almost couldn’t make it. He said he couldn’t stand the falling sensation, tumbling, hounding of the wind or the silence.

He remembered trying to breathe with all the rubble around him.

Following his story in the HSC, he answered questions from the audience. Before leaving, he said, “God Bless America.”

“I was excited about the opportunity to hear a Sept. 11 story from the mouth of someone who survived the collapsing towers,” said Tim Maroder, an Elgin union firefighter.

Gina Malfeo, a sophomore nursing major, enjoyed hearing a live story. Malfeo mostly remembers the man from the 27th floor. “He may have been e-mailing his last wishes to his family and thought for sure that he would die.”