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My Experience

Submitted by Richard Skinner

 

 

My Name is Richard Skinner and I was involved in the events of 9/11/01and here is my story.


I was on my way to NYC from Poughkeepsie NY on 9/11/01 to go to NY City Department of Buildings located at that time at 60 Hudson Street in Manhattan. At that time I was Northeast Regional Manager with the National Fire Sprinkler Association and was working on High Rise Legislation to require Fire Sprinklers in all Buildings in the City. I was also Vice President of the NY State Honorary Fire Chiefs Association which is an organization dedicated to help out NY City and State firefighters by awarding Scholarships to Firefighters children and many other functions.


As I was in traffic on the Saw Mill Parkway getting into the Bronx, my best friend FDNY Lt. Joe Torillo called from fire HQ in Brooklyn wanting to have lunch after I was done at Dept of Buildings. It was 8:15 am at that time. He was taking Fire Cadets to the Fire Zone located at Rockefeller Center. (Joe was the Director of Fire Safety Education for the FDNY and Former E-10 Ladder 10 Crewman)


At around 8:50 am my pager went off (Multi Media pager shows fire activity via a screen) and it stated plane vs. bldg WTC box 8087.


I thought that it was a small plane because I knew that the Wall St. Heliport was located just north of the WTC and it was very possible that a helicopter or plane w/ pontoons could have crashed.


It seemed like 5-10 mins later my pager was going crazy, Double 5th alarm assignment WTC per Chief Ganci.


I turned on the radio and was listening when my wife called. She was watching the TV and I was stepping it up to the west side hwy to start heading down to see if I could help. (I am certified as a Fire Marshal and am still an active firefighter and was a disaster volunteer with the Red Cross) My wife and I were on the phone and I was getting closer to the incident where I could see. I got to 23rd St and the West Side Hwy when all of the sudden a low flying plane passed to the west of me and slammed into the 2nd tower. I slammed my phone down and floored my car to get down there.


On my pager they were talking about closing both sides of the West Side Hwy for Emergency Vehicle access only so I parked at 13th st and the West Side Hwy. I opened my trunk, pulled out my camera and took a picture of the towers then threw it in the car and ran to the West Side Hwy at Canal St by the Mobil gas station. I showed my Hon Fire Chiefs badge to an officer with my Id and asked where the command post was. He directed me to the tower 1 lobby. As I was running toward the buildings on West St. I was looking on Fire Apparatus for gear because debris and bodies were landing on the buildings around me. I finally stopped to notice that the debris was getting bigger and that I had no protection so I decided to back off a bit. So I was at West St. between Chambers and Murray St by Stuyvesant HS and the World Financial Center located on the SW corner of the street.


I was talking with 2 NYPD officers and I showed them what my pager was saying and I let them use my cell phone.


We were watching the many jumpers. I remember a lady in a white dress w/black dots appeared pregnant holding hands with a white male wearing dark pants, white shirt and a tie cross themselves, hold hands and jump together.


Then the ground shook and I saw Debris from the first tower coming down. It was the south tower and at the time it just seemed like the top of the building came down. The North Tower took the brunt of the debris falling so I was not really affected by it.


Then my pager went off again that the pentagon had been hit by a terrorist attack.


I showed the NYPD officers and we then knew there was trouble.


Then, all of the sudden, we heard a loud sonic boom come over us, Being former military I hit the dirt in horror. It was an F-15 military aircraft. I at this time I was so confused and in shock, I had no thought process.


Within Id say 15 mins the 2nd Tower collapsed and I found myself running for cover. I headed to the foot Bridge between Stuyvesant HS and the World Financial Center then started running northbound from there. I ended up running backwards so I could see where the debris was landing and then ended up stopping once the major debris settled. There was a pickup truck covered in debris with Firefighters and civilians in the back that had baled to get out of harms way. They were white from the debris and one Firefighter was walking around in circles and an officer was having a heart attack. Hazlotah ambulance corps was there in a split second taking care of the many victims. I started heading to the Mobil Gas Station on Canal and West because I was in a State of Shock and could not believe what I had seen.


My mind was a blank and all I was trying to do was call my office in NY State and family to tell them I was ok. I think I called my Twin Brother and asked him to inform family that I was ok.


I used the restroom and was sick to my stomach in disbelief and decided to go to my car at 13th st and the West Side Hwy.


I got to the car where I just sat there for about 1/2 hr then got out and stared at the destruction.


I then got back in the car to head home to Poughkeepsie.


Then I heard a knocking on my glass. A man with WTC ID asked me if I could take him home to Nyack NY and that he had been in the 1st tower. His name was Peter Filatov and he was working for a communications firm in WTC Tower #1. He and I spoke of what we had been through and he kept thanking me for taking him home. He told me his wife had just had a child and he wanted to get home to be with them. It seemed like we were friends forever as we traded pictures of our families and talking about appreciating life.


After 2 hrs or so going to the Tappan Zee Bridge, I made it to Peter's where he invited me in for a while. After his family attacked my car, I was starting to miss my Wife Geni and Son William. So I left and headed to my home in Poughkeepsie.


I left out that since this happened in the morning that I was trying to find my friend Joe from FDNY with no luck. No One knew where he was. I was afraid to call his wife Vicky because I was not ready to hear her get upset.


I got home and held my son tight. I realized I was home safe and that I needed to find Joe. I called everyone from FDNY to find Joe and then saw on MSNBC that some People were transported to NJ by State Police Boat.


I called Christ Hospital in Jersey City (They had a list of all emergency workers taken to NJ area hospitals) they messed up his name but I knew it was him. I drove like a maniac with my red response light on to Jersey City Medical Center to be with him. The NJ State Police escorted me from exit 14 on the NJ Tpk to the Medical Center.


I ran up to the 4th floor and into his private room. There to my shock, I said hi Joe this swollen face looked up at me and said "What’s up Bro". I cried like a baby and just stared out the window facing the WTC scene and thanked god that he made it.


His bloody gear was on a bed next to him. I examined it and it looked like he had been through hell literally.


I told him that I will be there as long as needed and will do anything to help him and his family.


Then, we got a visit from a retired battalion Chief from FDNY holding a clipboard. Joe had worked for him before and they knew each other but the news we got just killed us. He wanted to know where Joe was and where Timmy Stackpole was when Tower #1 collapsed. Joe ran left toward the water and Timmy ran Right. Timmy, with a wife and 4 daughters was dead.


He then went on to say many other friends of ours had perished, Chief Ganci Chief of Dept, Chief Barbara Citywide Tour Commander and Former Chief of Fire Prevention, Father Judge and many others too many to list. I started looking at the names and Joe and I were blown away by the list. Many of them Joe knew that he worked with for years, Many I knew from my involvement with the FD.


I stayed with Joe overnight and waited on him hand and foot. We got devious checking out the nurses and laughing to keep our minds off this tragedy.


He was in a lot of pain suffering from severe head trauma, broken rotator cuff, impacted eyes w/ scratched corneas, broken ribs and a severe back injury and damage to some internal organs. He was in alot of pain all night.


The next morning, I wheeled him off to the Eye dr and X ray to check his back and finally he threw me out to go do some good or be with my family or both. So I took off. I called the Red Cross Chapter and they wanted me to respond to the city to drive an ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) because I know NY streets in all 5 boros and can get around. On 9/13/01 I drove from Ground Zero to Ft Totten to all the many shelters set up bringing everything from masks to food and health care supplies where ever they told me. I remember the many people standing on the West Side Hwy waiving flags of support for us as I was very sad but determined to do something good.


At the end of a 12v hr shift, I headed across the street from the Red Cross Hq to the quarters of Eng 40 Ladder 35 where I had another friend that was a firefighter there. Jimmy ended up being hurt at the World Trade Center site and was home in LI recovering. I looked across the bays from where I was standing and there was Billy Baldwin from the movie “Backdraft” there with a little boy. As it turned out, he lived in the apt building across the street and was very friendly with the guys at this house. The little boy's father was missing and Billy was there for his son. What a great guy I thought.


After talking with him I decided to leave and head downtown to other firehouses that I had friends at. To my disbelief I would pull up and see pictures of the lost souls. I cried at the first (2) firehouses as I learned some of my brother’s fate and quickly became numb.


I went to a firehouse downtown where they were selling sweat shirts to help the families of members in the firehouse, with about fifty dollars to my name; I gave up most of it for a shirt and hat. It was the least I could do.


I then returned home and then to work where I received a call from one of my member companies who was a citrus farmer and Sprinkler Contractor in Florida who wanted to help. We then decided to go with a plan, this guy drove a U Haul from Florid to NYC for (2) nights. We met in Brooklyn where I parked my car and we went to every Firehouse in Brooklyn and Manhattan to deliver the fresh fruit.


This was uplifting to me as I felt we were doing something good without overstepping our bounds.


After 36 hrs with some breaks in between, he headed back to Florida and I headed back to Poughkeepsie. I was tired but proud that I was able to help a little.


To this day, I am a changed person. Right after the incident and sometimes today, I feel guilt that I made it and my buddies did not. Could I have helped them? Was I useless for standing back from what I thought was a dangerous situation?


I have had a very hard time since 9/11/01. I had nightmares that lasted over (8) months of jumpers, I am not into meeting people and going to social gatherings,


I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and am receiving counseling at Mt Sinai Medical Center as part of the WTC treatment program..


This series of events are with me every day and whenever I go to perform my duties as a firefighter I am thinking of my over (20) friends who perished doing what I live for, Fighting Fires and Saving Lives.


Every Day I live in their honor and they will never be forgotten.


Respectfully Submitted,


Richard A. Skinner CET. Firefighter


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