I open my eyes and see everyone hurrying down the stairs. Why are they running? I wonder. Is there a fire? The last thing I remember was going to bed. Is this a dream? I touch my face, and I feel a roughness to my skin. I start to notice something fuzzy around my chin… am I a guy? This is so weird! I lose myself in the astonishment of what I have become. People bumping into drag me away from my thoughts of wonder. I should start going down with them, I think. But then I see firefighters going up, one of them says, “Steve, why are you going down? We gotta go to the impact point.” The impact point? I ignore him, he then pats me on the back, and yells, “Steve! Let’s go! We don’t have time to lose, people are dying.” That’s when I see he is talking to me. Wait, what!? Why is he shouting at me? I’m not Steve.
In that instant, I noticed how my back is weighing my body down. I must be carrying at least seventy-five pounds! I can’t go on, I’m not strong enough. But then I think of the words the other firefighter said to me, “We don’t have time, people are dying!”. So then I start dragging myself up the stairs to get to “the impact zone”, whatever that means. While going up, I notice a strong smell of gasoline permeating everywhere, I see people covered in ashes, running for their lives. While advancing up the stairs I wonder, where am I? And why are there so many floors? I see a sign that states “85th floor, North Tower”. I keep dragging myself up with all my strength when I finally start to see the dark grey smoke, that must mean we are getting close. At this time I sense how Steve takes over his body, and I’m just present in the background. I perceive how Steve feels, he feels scared and uncomfortable, he knows this seems unusual.
On every floor I see through Steve's eyes, people are crying with blood gushing down their arms, faces and legs as they get help from firefighters. From the corner of my eye I notice large metal objects, I think that maybe they are part of a car or something, but they are huge. I see how this huge piece of metal looks like a triangle, is it a wing? That means it’s a plane! A plane has crashed into this building! I hear a huge explosion and it makes everyone around me run faster. I put everything together in my head: there are a lot of floors, there’s a fire, I see a plane crashed into this building, an explosion, the South Tower! I am a firefighter in the North Tower on 9/11.
At that moment I stop and head down the stairs because I know this tower is going to collapse. I feel Steve’s unwillingness to go down, but still I push myself to leave the building. After going ten floors down, I notice normal citizens going up. I stop to reflect on what I am seeing, ordinary people are going up to save others that are trapped, and I, supposedly a firefighter, am going down. Even though I’m not a real firefighter, it is my duty to save these people’s lives. I go up five floors and I hear screaming. One of the walls has collapsed. I shout, “Who’s in here? Where are you?” In response, I hear a little, crying voice coming from the corner of the fallen wall, “It’s Maria, I am trapped, some parts of the wall are crushing me, and I can’t get out. Help me please!”, she whimpers. “Can you move?”, I ask. “No, the wall is on top of me.”
I have never been trained, I’m not strong. what can I do? I get the heavy bag and find a huge hammer. I go in and push the wall with my hand to see if it is stable enough to hammer it. Nothing happens, so I slam the hammer against the wall again and again. I run into the hole that the pounding of the hammer made, and go to find Maria. I find her underneath a vast piece of wood lying across her stomach. I try and push it off but she whimpers.
“You can’t push it off, it’s inside me.”
Then I see blood all around her. I feel nauseous. I go back to the bag and see paramedic things. I find gauze and a numbing spray. I spray her stomach, and press down on it, more and more blood starts to come out. I put rubbing alcohol and gauze around her. We get out of the office and see a big man running down. I call him over and tell him to carry Maria down, and run because the building is going to collapse in minutes. The man looks at me surprised and asks me how I know that. I answer, “It doesn’t matter, I just know there is no time to waste this building is going down, and you need to save yourself. Now!” He doesn’t ask twice, and starts sprinting down, trying not to trip with Maria in his arms.
I keep going up, I see other firefighters descending with people in their arms. They all know me, and call my name when they see me, I just say “Hi.” Some of them stop me and tell me that we can not go any higher up or we will die from the flames. I stare at them and I agree. I want to go down and be safe, but Steve takes over his body again.
“I would rather die, than save myself and know that I could’ve saved so many more,” Steve says. Those words make me give in, I agree with him. I might die if I go up, but I might be able to rescue more people. I pass my colleagues, bumping into them. They try to detain me but I keep going.
After a couple of floors I begin to really feel the heat. I feel as though I am about to melt, but in that instant, I start to hear a chorus of voices coming from a floor up. “We can’t breathe!” they scream. I go up to that floor and see fire surrounding the door and, unbelievably, I kick the door down. When I enter the room I can’t see a thing, everything is covered in ashes, and the air is thick, grey and clogging. I hear the voices again. I follow them to a window, they are all surrounding it trying to gasp for air. I tell them to follow me. I turn on a broken flashlight, that I find while entering the room, and guide them through the broken door. They all stop. They can’t get out, they don’t have a firefighter’s suit, like I do. They will be burnt in an instant. I try to search for towels in the bag that I have. I find three. I give them to them but notice that there are five people. Two of them will not be able to get out. I think… What can I do? They will die if I let them here, and will burn if they pass through the door surrounded by fire.
Then I decide. I carry a man on my back and another in my arms. I discern how Steve is grinding his teeth due to their combined weight. Once we pass through the door, the two men and I scream. I feel the heat permeating Steve's rough skin, inflaming burns from previous fires. Once we pass the melting flames we stop. The two men, barely conscious, scream their lungs out. I try to do something, but there is nothing I can do. I sense how sorrowful and guilty Steve feels. I watch them how they slowly, tearing in pain the two men die in my arms. At that instant we hear tremendous a sound. “The building is collapsing!” one of the women screams. I know that it is not this tower that is falling, but the South Tower. This means that there are now only a few minutes until this tower will collapse too. We start running down, one floor at a time, each second sending us closer to the collapse of the tower. Floor sixty, fifty, forty… And then we hear an excruciating sound. We are all going to die, Steve and I think at the same time. We run faster and faster, colliding with other workers going down. And finally a cloud of dust, fire and smoke passes us.
Darkness. Darkness is the first thing I feel. Darkness within myself, and darkness around me. I smell that suffocating odor of dust and a metallic taste of blood. I wake up and can’t move, I am surrounded by pieces of metal, ashes, cement, blood… I try to get up but my body does not allow me to move. I see the two woman that I rescued next to me, and notice that they are breathing. After lying down and trying to wake them by shaking their arms, they finally become conscious. They get up and I ask them to help me up because I can not move. They hold me up but once I stand alone, unsupported, I sense Steve’s legs unresponsive, and I fall back to the ground. My legs are weak, they can not hold me up! The two women start screaming for help, and we see a couple of shadows coming toward us. Other firefighters.
Once they see me they scream my name, “Steve! You are alive! We thought you were dead once you went up to the floor with the fire!” I tell them to help me up as I am unable to move. They carry me through the ruins of the building, engulfed by clouds of dust and ashes. Once the dust clears I see body after body on the ground, covered in blood. This image will stay with me forever, Steve and I think.
After seeing all these tragic deaths, I notice how Steve is horrified by what has happened, and is not able to reason why it occurred.
Steve asks the fireman, “What happened? Was it a plane accident?”
Solemnly he responds, “No it was a terrorist attack, they crashed two planes into the Twin Towers. New York has been evacuated. By now hundreds have died, and thousands have been injured.”
I feel Steve’s reaction to this tragedy. He feels as if the world had gone mad. He reflects on why would someone would do this? Are there such callous people in this world? I remember I had this exact feeling when my parents told me that 9/11 was a terrorist attack.
When I was young I thought the Twin Towers had been torn down on purpose. But once I got to second grade, I asked my parents why did they bring the Twin Towers down, if it would harm people? My parents then told me what really happened. When I heard this, I was shocked. I asked myself the same question Steve did. Why are there so many people that want to hurt and make other people unhappy?
Once we got to the Red Cross station the paramedics had set up, I was put down on a chair. The fireman left, telling me that the paramedics would come as soon as possible, but there was a lot going on so I might have to wait for a while. While sitting on that chair, I saw how New York had changed so tremendously in a matter of hours. I remember seeing the ruins on TV, but it is nothing compared to what it is like being here, now, in New York. All around, there is people wailing trying to get out, with blood through their whole body. I hear thousands of beeping sounds around me, one after the other. I realize those are the firefighter’s monitors, thousands unconscious and dead under the buildings ruins.
A paramedic comes and gives me a mask, so that I won’t breathe all the dust and gasoline present in the air. Firemen keep bringing more and more people to the Red Cross stand, but some of those people will not stay. One man had part of his cheek missing, where you could start to see part of his bone. They were trying to treat him but were unable to as he started to run away. I stopped him, “Where are you going?” I say, “You have to get your cheek seen to, there is blood all over you.”
He looks at me, and with determination he responds, “I don’t care that I’m bleeding, there are people dying underneath all of these fallen buildings,” he looks at me one last time and goes away. Steve grins at this statement, while I look at the man with a scary feeling. He is going to die!
After re-thinking those words, I notice how everyone is helping each other. All around me there are lines of people lining up to move pieces of debris to allow people to get out. Maybe 9/11 might have not been such a tragedy after all, maybe it helped to show the world that terrorists might try to bring America down, but citizens will help each other to overcome such attacks. Though we might never forget the tragedy that happened September 11 2001, we will also never forget how this catastrophe allowed the U.S to unite America as one.