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Last Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
9/11 experiences: A firefighter's story
Jay Jonas was a fire captain on 11 September 2001. He and his unit were inside the North Tower of the World Trade Center when it collapsed.


Jay Jonas
Jay Jonas was trapped under rubble for four hours

We were one of the earliest fire units to respond to the emergency at the World Trade Center.

We were in the North Tower when the second plane hit the South Tower.

We got to the 27th floor when the South Tower collapsed so we started to retreat. Once we got to around the 20th floor, we saw a woman in distress, and stopped to rescue her.

We were carrying her downstairs and made it to the fourth floor when the North Tower collapsed with us still inside.

When it came down on top of us, I felt like we were dead men walking.

I really felt that we would be very lucky if we made it out of there. As it turns out, we did but we were extremely fortunate to have been in that one little spot that remained quasi-intact, a little bubble of safety, where the rest of the building was ripped to shreds.

The area we were in was the geographic centre of the tower. The collapse kind of ran out of energy when it got to us.

Memorial picture
Mr Jonas's firehouse lost 11 firefighters in the disaster
If you were below us in the ground floor, you didn't make it. You had to be in this little pocket. It was all twisted and filled with rubble but it was survivable. The rubble pile itself was about seven stories tall.

We were trapped in there for about four hours. The smoke and dust eventually cleared to the point where sunshine started hitting the area where we were trapped.

That allowed us to look outside and thankfully we saw some of our fellow firefighters off in the distance.

We called out to them and we managed to free ourselves before they got to us.

There were 14 of us in a little hole and we all survived. But we lost 11 people in our firehouse that day. There was a fire chief a little bit further down from us, who we were speaking to, who died while we were trapped.

Health concerns

We experienced not only the horror of the collapse, we also experienced the fear and the horror as events were taking place.

We saw people jumping. We saw debris falling and crashing.

I might not be out of the woods with 11 September. The long term health effects of this are going to be monumental

When I was on the 27th floor of the North Tower and the South Tower collapsed, that was the scariest time for me, that period between the two towers collapsing.

As for the long term impact, health is a major concern.

As far as evidence of the air at the site being a health danger, it's absolutely true.

I've had good friends of mine, one in particular, who was my neighbour, a big healthy strapping man who worked at "the pile" [Ground Zero] for weeks afterwards.

His lungs got so bad that he couldn't even walk across my kitchen without taking a breath from an inhaler.

This man was a fireman's fireman, a big strapping man and his health is destroyed. I find myself becoming short of breath on cold and humid days, so I'm waiting for that other shoe to drop.

I might not be out of the woods with 11 September. The long term effects of this are going to be monumental.

Emotional distress

But I wouldn't do anything differently, that's what firemen do. Our friends were buried in there, other people were buried there.

Names on a fire engine
The names of some of the men lost are printed on fire engines
We were trying to get them out, we were trying to rescue people upstairs. We were in a full retreat mode when we were coming down the stairs, and yet we still had the courage to stop and save that woman on the fourth floor.

Her name is Josephine Harris and we carried her down the stairs to safety, which greatly slowed our exit although every fibre in our being was screaming at us to get out of the building, but we wouldn't leave her. That's what firemen do.

I've definitely gone through emotional changes in dealing with the events of that day.

I try now to cherish little moments, especially with my kids, as best as I can.

And knowing what emotional distress they went though with this, I try to go the extra distance to make sure that they are having a good experience as a child and to try to make sure that they are coming through this experience well.





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