How do you say thank you to people who have risked their lives to save yours? It’s a question that John Abruzzo, who back in 2001 was a 41-year old accountant working for the Port Authority located on the 69th floor in the north tower of the WTC. When his office was told to evacuate, his colleagues refused to leave him behind. Abruzzo was a quadriplegic since a 1974 driving accident and bound to a motorized wheelchair. When he left his office, only to find the entire floor vacated, he felt spooked and worried about how he would descend the 69 floors. It’s then that 9 other coworkers came rushing toward him. They had been looking for him , and made a collective decision that without the elevators, the only option was to carry him down the 69 floors.
Toward that end, they located the special, lightweight evacuation chairs installed on every floor of the tower for just this type of situation. But getting Abruzzo’s 6′ 4″ 250 lb. body into it was another story. Once secured, fueled by the growing smells of airplane fuel and news that Two World Trade Center had been teetering on collapse, the nine friends took turns carrying their friend through the narrow stairwells of the burning building. They reached the bottom floor ten minutes before it would collapse. But once there, they couldn’t get out. The large glass doors were locked. Just several inches of glass blocked their final escape.
Fortunately, firemen outside the building took notice. And one smashed the glass, sending shards through the air and they rushed out, and collapsed on the sidewalk, only to rally again as the north tower was giving way. They wheeled their friend north, and just when they were out of harm’s way, the tower collapsed. It had taken 80 minutes to exit the tower. In the 1993 WTC incident when a bomb went off, it had taken six hours for his evacuation. Something that gave Abruzzo pause.