The audience at today's Featured Presentation, "9/11: Leadership Before and After the Crisis," heard a moving, moment-by-moment account of how Deputy Chief Jay Jonas with the New York City Fire Department escaped the North Tower on September 11. He was one of only 20 people in the building who survived the collapse.
As if telling the story to one of his friends instead of a crowd of hundreds, Jonas spoke with candor about his team's search-and-rescue tactics in what were the second tallest buildings in the world at the time of the terrorist attacks. "This is what we have, and this was what was in front of us," said Jonas, as images of the two burning buildings flashed on the two large screens next to him. The former captain for Ladder 6 in Chinatown at the time of the attacks, Jonas and his team of five other firefighters were on the 27th floor of the North Tower when the floor started swaying from an earthquake-like rumble. The South Tower had collapsed.
Knowing their precarious situation, the team descended the stairs while passing a number of his comrades tending to victims. "All of them would die," said a somber Jonas. On the 20th floor, they encounted Josephine Harris, a bookeeper who worked in the building and had trouble walking. The team slowly assisted her to the fourth floor, when Harris collapsed. As Jonas looked for a chair or some other item to haul her to the exit, "that's when it started," he said.
"The floor starting moving like it was waves on a lake," he said. "I just dove for the stairway. The collapse created tornado-like winds in the stairway. Then there was the sound of twisting steel. The collapse got louder got closer. Everytime a floor hit another floor, it created these vibrations. I had two thoughts as the collapse got closer: I failed my guys, and I can’t believe I’m going to die right here. Then the collapse stopped."
Jonas called out to all of his comrades. All of them--including Harris--survived. However, 343 of his fellow firefighters lost their lives after the attacks. The presentation ended with a five-minute video memorializing the firefighters who lost their lives that day. Audience members, many of them in tears following the video, gave Jonas a standing ovation.
For more details on Jonas' escape on 9/11 and on fire and life safety improvements since the tragedy, read the story in NFPA Journal. Also, check out the magazine's feature on how NFPA has responded to the event.