Today we arrived at ground zero hoping to obtain passes to get into the actual memorial. We were unsuccessful and, like hundreds of other firefighters there today, were turned away. While today was the memorial's first official day open to the public, the reservation system opened weeks ago and the free passes were sold out in seconds for day one.
Instead, we visited the museum right next door to Ten House on Liberty and Ground Zero called Tribute WTC Visitor Center, opened by a family survivors group. This amazing organization has artifacts and exhibits from the pile, as well as a gift and information center.
Our guided tour was provided by two 9-11 survivors.
Desiree Bouchat, a finance employee on the 101st floor of the south tower, started evacuating after confusion regarding reports of a small plane hitting the north tower -- many people in the south tower did not know the first tower had been hit. As Desiree exited to the elevated lobby, the second plane hit. Many of her co-workers perished.
Vic Guarnera was the security systems manager and a veteran employee at the World Trade Centre, there for both 9-11 and the 1993 bombing. Vic was on the 35th floor of the north tower when it was struck and made his way to the command post, where he started marshalling fire chiefs. As people were exiting the towers at the west entrance, several were killed by people jumping from the floors above, so Vic advised the FDNY Chiefs to move their evacuation corridor to the north.
When he went out to see how bad the debris was, it was raining fire from the jet fuel, and Vic found the helmet of Father Judge, the FDNY chaplain; the chaplain had been hit by a person who fell or jumped from the upper floors and is remembered as the first official casualty of the FDNY. As the south tower started to rumble to the ground, Vic headed north to escape the debris cloud.
In Vic’s tour he explained some interesting events that saved lives on 9-11.
Normal population of the twin towers on a Tuesday at 8:46 am. is around 45,000 to 50,000, he said, but on Sept. 11, 2001, only about 15,000 to 18,000 people were in the buildings.
There are three reasons for this discrepancy and they all are partially responsible for the buildings being under populated that morning, Vic said:
- Sept. 11 was the first day of school in New York, where many parents take their kids to meet the teacher.
- It was also voting day to elect primary representatives for certain political parties. Under state law, employers must give one hour to workers to vote; most take the hour in the morning.
- The Denver Broncos played the Giants the previous night in Denver. The time zone difference kept New York football fans up into the morning as the game when into triple overtime.
All of these factors may have prevented thousands from arriving earlier in the day, subsequently saving their lives.