Fire Chief Picciotto of the 9/11 Tragedy Inspires at 2016 Business Conference
March 22, 2016
Contact: Shelly Mayer
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EDITOR’S NOTE: A variety of news releases summarizing speakers at the 2016 PDPW Business Conference is available at this link: http://pdpw.smediahost.net/businessconference/.
Closing out the information-packed 2016 PDPW Business Conference was FDNY Chief Richard Picciotto, the Battalion Commander who served as chief of one of the first units to respond to the tragedy at the World Trade Center in Manhattan on September 11, 2001.
“I was having coffee when the call came in.” Piccotto began. “Based on my experience with the World Trade Center bomb attacks in 1993, I knew this was a terrorist attack. And as we approached the scene and I saw the fire, I knew there’d be no way to put it out. Instead, we’d have to fight to contain it.”
Picciotto described in detail the challenges of containing a fire of this magnitude in even one of these two identical towers. To start, he noted that on an average work day, between 20,000 to 30,000 people would be present in just one tower. Each tower was 120 stories high, and each story covered an acre of space. Though each tower had 99 elevators, they were all rendered useless when the power went off after the jets flew in.
For all this area, each tower had only 3 stairwells. “When we arrived on the scene, most people were trapped above the 23rd floor. Once we entered the building, thousands of people were attempting to get down the three not-very-wide stairwells,” Picciotto said. “As firefighters, we not only have over-sized heat-protective gear to wear, but we also carry up to 100 pounds of equipment with us. And we’re having to go up the stairs against the streams of people trying to escape.”
“Our original goal was to rescue survivors, survey damage and cover as many floors as we could, as fast as possible,” said Picciotto. Unfortunately, his team had only reached the 35th floor when the tower was shaking and thundering all around them. The ground-shaking rumbling and deafening sounds of crashing, clattering and collapsing noises was stunning, but they kept moving. Though they all thought the building was collapsing around them, they soon realized the commotion was coming from South Tower next to them. The sound of 120 stories of acre-sized steel-framed office buildings, shops and restaurants collapsing one into one another as they came crashing down was deafening. Though it all happened in a mere 10 seconds, Picciotto said it ‘felt like an eternity.’
“My first thoughts were about the unthinkable number of people who had just died,” he recalled. “And soon it occurred to me that many of them were my friends,” he said. “In that moment, I knew the North Tower would be coming down next, and I was faced with one of the hardest decisions of my life. I had to decide whether to continue the rescue mission or to turn around and evacuate. As chief, I had to make the call. For the safety of my unit and all those still attempting to escape, I gave the command to evacuate.”
They soon discovered that debris from the South Tower collapse was now blocking any further exit from two of the three stairwells, leaving only one stairwell for all those remaining in the North Tower to use – slowing down all chance of exit even more.
Picciotto and his team had descended to the 7th floor when the awful noise and shuddering began again, but with more power and force this time. “The noise and the shaking was crazy – and of course we had no electricity, so it’s completely dark except for flashlights, and the air is thick with smoke and debris from both the towers. People and firemen were being tossed around like dolls, and then the building simply came down around us. We were free falling into complete blackness, piling on top of one another. As a deafening silence fell upon, us we collectively held our breath,” he recalled.
“I could see nothing. I could hear nothing. At first, I thought I was dead. But as my senses returned, it became clear there were other survivors around me. I knew I needed to take command again. So I called out to others and soon other voices around me confirmed we still had survivors to take care of.”
It would be many hours before the group of survivors was found, unburied, and brought to safety, but through it all Picciotto remained in command of the 12 others who were trapped with him. They were the only survivors of the collapse who had been in the South Tower when it collapsed.
Picciotto recounted these details and more in what became a best-selling book. Last Man Down has been inspiring audiences since its release.
“For me, the lesson here revolves around priorities. Any time there is a tragedy, we need to be more focused on the important things in life –family and friends. Don’t take them for granted,” he said.
“The people that did this wanted to divide our country. Instead, we pulled together. We became stronger. We united.” His story of leadership while all came crashing down around him has inspired many audiences and people, including those gathered at the PDPW Business Conference.
More highlights from the conference are available at www.pdpw.org.
Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin is a dairy-producer founded organization that provides educational programs and services to fellow dairy producers. PDPW’s mission is “to share ideas, solutions, resources, and experiences that help dairy producers succeed.”