Excerpt from “Last Man Down ~ the fireman’s story” by Richard Picciotto ~~09:59AM~~

11 SEPTEMBER 2001: 9:59AM

It came as if from nowhere.

There were about two dozen of us by the bank of elevators on the 35th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. We were firefighters, mostly, and we were in various stages of exhaustion. Some guys were sweating like pigs. Some had their turnout coats off, or tied around their waists. Quite a few were breathing heavily. Others were raring to go. All of us were taking a beat to catch our breaths, and our bearings, figure out what the hell was going on. We’d been at this thing, hard, for almost an hour, some a little bit less, and we were nowhere close to done. Of course, we had no idea what there was left to do, but we hadn’t made a dent.

And then the noise started, and the buildings began to tremble, and we all froze. Dead solid still. Whatever there had been left to do would now have to wait. For what, we had no idea, but it would wait. Or, it wouldn’t, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that no one was moving. To a man, no one moved, except to lift his eyes to the ceiling, to see where the racket was coming from. As if we could see clear through the ceiling tiles for an easy answer. No one spoke. There wasn’t time to turn thought into words, even though there was time to think. For me, anyway, there was time to think, too much time to think, and my thoughts were all over the place. Every possible worst-case scenario, and a few more besides. The building was shaking like in an earthquake, like an amusement park thrill ride gone berserk, but it was the rumble that struck me still with fear. The sheer volume of it. The way it coursed right through me. I couldn’t think what the hell would make a noise like that. Like a thousand runaway trains speeding towards me. Like a herd of wild beasts. Like the thunder of a rockslide. Hard to put it into words, but whatever the hell it was it was gaining speed, and gathering force, and getting closer, and I was stuck in the middle, unable to get out of its path. …

… But what? What could make such a loud, horrific, thundering noise? A noise that would surely claim me and my couple dozen brothers from the New York City Fire Department, stranded there on the 35th floor of a torched landmark that had been attacked by a hijacked 767 just an hour earlier. What else could be gaining on us with that kind of ferocious velocity? …

… We still couldn’t know what we were facing, but it was virtually upon us, and we were sure we were about to be pierced or pummelled or pulverized by whatever the hell it was, and I paused in my thinking long enough to frame the scene in my mind: a couple dozen firefighters, spent and anxious and filthy with sweat and smoke and adrenalin, frozen like statues in the corridors of the 35th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center, eyes skyward, waiting for some unknowable end to burst through the ceiling and overcome us. …

… And yet the roar passed through us, like nothing at all. It was coming, and coming, and then it was on top of us, and a part of us, and finally through us, and now it was gone, rocketing down to the plaza below. Whooooooooooshhhhhh! The building kept shaking, our bones kept rattling, but we were still standing. Still standing, and standing still, afraid to move for fear we might upset the uneasy balance of whatever it had been. Whatever might come next.

No one spoke, for the longest time – and when I use a phrase like ‘the longest time’, you must realize that everything is relative. This entire episode was only ten seconds in the unfolding, from faint rumbling to deafening roar to fading, falling thunder, but it happened in a weird slow motion. It was eerie as hell, unlike anything I’d experienced, and the strangest, most unsettling part was we couldn’t see a thing to correspond to the ridiculously loud noise. It was just noise. Endless, unrelenting, horrifying noise. In a vacuum. We had no idea. Outside, or on television screens the world over, it was clear what we were hearing, but we were marooned in this windowless vestibule, a couple of hundred feet above the ground, another several hundred feet below a raging fire and incredible devastation. And, still, whatever it was hadn’t touched us. Whoooooooooooshhhh! It had merely passed through us, and continued on its path, to some unknown place.

Another Excerpt from Last Man Down ~~10:00am~~
Another Excerpt from Last Man Down ~~10:29am~~

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4 Comments

Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction

4 responses to “Excerpt from “Last Man Down ~ the fireman’s story” by Richard Picciotto ~~09:59AM~~

  1. Chief Richard Picciotto of the New York City Fire Department was one of very few survivors to emerge from the destroyed buildings of the World Trade Center. He has shared his recollections in this story of survival, but not without controversy. It seems that his memory of events don’t exactly align to those of his fellow survivors – apparently an issue of leadership and heroism.

  2. This is SUCH an amazing story.

    One only has to consider the towers’ size of 110 stories – each floor an acre in size and held up by nearly 300 steel box columns made steel which was inches thick – and then try to clap your hands 110 times in only ten seconds…. the time it took for those towers to go away….

    How could people survive such an event?

    One is tempted to say “due to a miracle” … but the answer is perhaps even more incredible than a miracle.

  3. Pingback: Excerpt from “Last Man Down ~ the fireman’s story” by Richard Picciotto ~~10:29AM~~ | thingsthatmadeanimpression

  4. Pingback: Excerpt from “Last Man Down ~ the fireman’s story” by Richard Picciotto ~~10:00AM~~ | thingsthatmadeanimpression

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