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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I consider myself incredibly lucky in that I am able to spend between 5 and 7 days of each week in the greatest city in the world. 10 years ago today however, I’m happy to say that at 17 years old, I was nowhere near New York City, but rather, in the safety of a 12th grade physics classroom in Huntington Station, Long Island.
Although somebody I once met died that day, I can gratefully say that I did not lose anybody close to me. For that reason, it has been difficult for me to wrap my head around the magnitude of what happened on that cool, clear September day. That is, until I got a bit older.
Today, I have been in the building operating engineers union (a mouthful, I know) for 5 years. We are responsible for the behind-the-scenes repairs and maintenance of all the building’s mechanical systems. The scope of work in a class-A office building is beyond the comprehension of most people that have not seen it with their own eyes, and every large building has a permanent crew that keeps the building’s heart beating 24/7/365. As the youngest crew member at all 3 of my commercial office buildings, I have heard dozens of first hand stories from people in my business, and others, that were in the city that day. Some were in the relative safety of midtown; some were not so lucky and found themselves in the thick of things.
One of my closest friends was near enough to ground zero that his life will never be the same. He was the #1 manager personally in charge of a large commercial building across the street from the world trade center. He and I have spoken several times about his feelings when emergency workers began wheeling in the wounded, and also the dead. His building was designated as a temporary triage and morgue in the hours immediately following the attacks. He recounted to me how he used whatever blankets and sheets he and his crew could find to cover the deceased victims that were lined up in rows in his lobby. In the days after, he escorted FBI agents to his roof where they recovered several aircraft parts that came crashing on top of his building. One small piece of fuselage that they allowed him to keep sits on a tiny wood shelf in his office today.
I have spent 10 years searching for first hand accounts of people in my field that actually worked in those buildings. And this morning, I found them. The story that I link to below is that of a man named Mike Pecoraro. The article is long, and a lot of the “shop talk” is beyond the understanding of people outside the business, but if you have a few minutes, I invite you to read a bit of it. You’ve heard the stories of the firefighters and police. Now, read the story of the man that they turned to when they needed to find their way out of a black dust filled lobby, since they were not familiar with the building like he was.
This afternoon, I went to the deli around the corner from my building in Queens, ordered a pastrami sandwich, and sat down at the park across the street to eat. While I enjoyed a staple of NYC cuisine, I gazed up at One Court Square, the titan of western Queens. Anybody that has ridden the long island railroad into Manhattan has seen that huge, blue-green, 50 story building that holds the title of being the tallest on Long Island. As I look up at it, I try to imagine a building 2 and a half times taller, falling apart around the very engineers that spent 40 hours a week caring for it.
4 men from my union, with the exact same job that I do every day, went in for their 8AM shifts in the twin towers on September 11th 2011. They never made it home. John Griffin Jr, Charlie Magee, Vito Deleo, and David Williams. I have not, and will never meet them. But I feel like I know them well, and I think about them all the time.
God bless, the victims, their loved ones, and all the rest of us that were fortunate enough to wake up on September 12th.
Click the link below to read Mike’s incredible survivor’s tale.