October 2004

I recently attended the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association convention in Atlantic City, where besides the usual vendor exhibits, presentations of awards and other such show staples, a luncheon was held during which NYFD Battalion Chief Richard “Pitch” Picciotto delivered the keynote address.

Picciotto, author of the book, “Last Man Down,” was the highest-ranking firefighter to survive the World Trade Center collapse and the last fireman to emerge from the ensuing devastation four hours after the North Tower fell.

During his speech, he described what his morning was like on Sept. 11, 2001, when he climbed to the 35th floor of the North Tower trying to find anybody to rescue (Picciotto already knew there was no chance to put out the fire.) Then he heard and felt what seemed like an earthquake. The South Tower fell. He gave the order to evacuate the North.

Descending the stairwell had become like blood squeezing through clogged arteries. When he arrived between the sixth and seventh floors, he heard and felt a sensation that was far worse than the first. Picciotto and 12 others would be the only survivors of the North Tower’s demise.

As he told it, the crux of his story was a celebration of life — and a warning of its unpredictability, serving as one of those reminders about the things that many believe last forever, such as love for one’s family and friends, compassion, and kindness, not money and other “worldly” possessions. These things should seem obvious, I suppose, but with all the negativity permeating the airwaves about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fleets of hurricanes attacking the south and another presidential campaign that has again sunk to being a game of “gotcha,” it’s easy to lose focus. And sometimes it takes somebody like Picciotto, who spent time trapped in the dark, to help others see the light. P

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