.....September 11, 2001: 9:59 A.M.
"It came as if from nowhere.
There were about two dozen of us by the bank of elevators on the thirty-fifth floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center.
We were firefighters mostly, and we were in various stages of exhaustion...
And then the noise started, and the building began to tremble, and we all froze. Dead solid still... No one spoke. There wasn't time to turn thoughts into words, even though there was time to think.
For me anyway there was time to think, too much time to think..."
"Last Man Down" is the sobering personal tale of one New York City fireman's experience surviving a hellish event that the world could never have imagined. His tale is not one of personal heroism while battling flames or pulling innocent victims from the clutches of Death. His tale is one of uncertainty, of not knowing what is happening, of having to be responsible and logical, of having to lead in a situation antithetical to reasoned response, calculated logic and effective leadership.
This is the story of New York City Fire Department Battalion Commander Richard Picciotto and his survival of the collapse of the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Last Man Down opens with a quiet moment of reflection. The author recounts the New York Fire Department's (FDNY) custom of sounding a sequence of five bells, four times in a row, over the FDNY internal bell system when a firefighter is lost in the line of duty. While the communications system has changed "the call of 'four fives,' from one firefighter to another, will always signal the loss of a brother." The author deplores the ugly fact that on September 11, 2001 there was no time for 'four fives'. "There was no time to ring the bells for (our fallen brothers) and too few of us left to hear the ringing."
What follows is his dedication of his story to those firefighters who "gave their lives on that tragic day." What follows are black words set on white paper: rank / surname / given name / unit assignment. Page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page of names...343 firefighters strong--as officially recorded by the FDNY--all gone. A roll call as hauntingly obscene as it is beautifully evocative of all that was lost.
"May their spirits soar, and their legacies linger, and may their mention here stand for the bells that never rang in their honor."
Read the rest of the review at Epinions dot com.
Originally published May 2, 2002
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