“Some of you didn’t really know the impact on your lives, your parent’s lives and on the world,” Picciotto said in his New York accent about the attacks. He said those who are older would always remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Picciotto said he would relive the day and all his decisions a thousand times.
Picciotto said when he received the news a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center ,he asked to be dispatched because he evacuated the World Trade Center in the 1993 bombing. “I knew I was the only person in the world who had ever evacuated that building.”
When he reached the scene he said he was overwhelmed by the sound of slamming. It was people jumping from the building. “The first NYC firefighter killed was killed by someone landing on him.”
Picciotto said he was told there were people trapped on the 20th and 23rd floor and he went to action running up stairwell C.
When Picciotto got to the 35th floor, he said he stopped to take a 15-second breather with a few other firemen when the building started shaking. “I don’t know what is happening but it’s loud,” he said.
In a matter of seconds the sound was not above them but around them. All of the sudden it stopped. He said the silence was deafening.
He called over the radio and found out the South Tower collapsed. “My first thought was how many of my friends just died?” He said with all the firemen there on the 35th floor, with him he had to make the toughest decision of his life.
He chose to evacuate. He knew the people trapped above him had no chance. He grabbed a bullhorn and shouted to evacuate down the stairwell and at every few floors when he did a sweep.
On the 27th floor, Picciotto said he encountered a man typing on his computer. When told to evacuate the man refused to move and continued typing. Picciotto then grabbed the man by the shirt and tossed him to the other firemen and forced the man to evacuate. “I hope he made it. Everyone asks me all the time.”
When Picciotto reached the 19th floor, he said he found people at a standstill in the stairwell. The stairwell was blocked with debris from when the South Tower collapsed. He searched and found stairwell A was also blocked, but stairwell B was unblocked. He started moving everyone down stairwell B.
Picciotto said on the 12th floor he found about 40 people sitting in chairs and desks. When he told people to start moving he realized a lot of them were handicapped, with wheelchairs and walkers.
Each handicapped person had a helper with them unwilling to leave their side. Picciotto said he got all the helpers out and then was able to evacuate the handicapped with the help of firefighters.
On the 7th floor, Picciotto said the shaking and noise started again. The shaking was a lot more violent and suddenly it went dark. The air pushing down from the floors collapsing above them caused them to be thrown around like rag dolls. “And then I prayed at that point what I wanted more than anything in the world. I didn’t want to suffer. Please, God, make it quick.”
Suddenly the floor disintegrated and he was free falling, then it was still and silent. “I guess I am dead now. I thought I was dead. I guess this is what happens … your thoughts just continue.”
Picciotto realized he wasn’t dead. He was covered with the dust created when everything collapsed.
One thousand people were never found. Not a finger, not a single piece of DNA, because they were reduced to dust.
He said there were 13 other people trapped in the void with him. He told them all not to move, to turn off their radios to save batteries and wait for help to come. He said it was an hour and a half before he even heard from rescuers.
Picciotto said he found himself wanting to take a nap when he noticed a dark gray spot in the black. He crawled his way up and he was free on top of the highest pile of debris. He sounded a siren with his bullhorn and rescuers came.
Picciotto said the first message he would like to send is you have to have priorities in your life. “Any time there is a tragedy, everyone becomes very focused on what is important.”
“We have to be prepared.” He said the support given to him by family, friends and the American spirit were tremendous. TAS