The following is a transcript of an interview that I did with FDNY Chief Richard Picciotto, at our customer appreciation event held at this year’s Clay County Fair, and this is just as it was aired on our radio program:
“We had our annual customer appreciation event that we underwrite with (AgriVantage Crop Insurance, Southern Archery & Gun, Beck’s, Ag Partners LLC, Little Sioux Corn Processors, Farm Credit Services of America, Greenleaf Agronomy LLC, Wyffels Hybrids, The Acre Company) at the Clay County Fair Saturday, September 16th. Our featured speaker this year was FDNY Chief Richard Picciotto. Richard was the highest ranking New York Fireman to survive 9/11 inside the North Tower when it collapsed. When the twin towers came down, there were 400 missing firefighters/first responders. 343 were lost that day. Richard was among the 57 of the missing that survived. I would like to welcome Richard to the 100th Anniversary of the Clay County Fair and to commend him for his service to the country.
David: Richard, in your book, “Last Man Down” can you relate what happened and what made you make the choice you did to order the evacuation of the North Tower?
Richard: Once I realized what had happened (to the South Tower) my decision was, do we still keep on going up to try to save people, or do we try to evacuate ourselves? There were still thousands of people in the building and at that point, my decision was to get as many people out as fast as possible and that includes the rescue workers – so that’s the decision I made and I still think that it was the right decision. I called for the evacuation trying to get as many down the stairs and out from where we were, unfortunately myself trying to be the last man down, I was still in the building when it collapsed.
David: That’s hard to imagine Richard. I watched the videos and when seeing the World Trade Center’s collapse, I can’t imagine that you were in there and survived. What’s your thoughts when you see a video like that?
Richard: It’s disbelief on my part and I was the one that was in there and I almost don’t believe that anyone could survive . . .a few people did, myself and 13 other people altogether. No one survived being in the South Tower and just the small group of people that were all within my group, we survived because we were in a little void, an air pocket in the North Tower.
David: You survived the initial collapse but no one knew you were there. That was a pretty rough time for you to try to figure out how to get out of there. Could you explain a little bit about what you experienced?
Richard: Well, I explained in the book a little bit how well, I wasn’t happy I was alive.
Richard: I was not happy I was alive because I realized the building had collapsed. And I realized that this void we were trapped in had maybe 100-200 feet of debris on top of us, so knowing that, I thought ‘we are alive but we are trapped and this is going to be a crypt.’ That’s what I thought so I was not happy at that point that I survived. Then I tried my radio call for help, calling ‘may-days’ – and that went on for quite some time, maybe an hour and half before somebody finally responded. And when they responded, I told them that there was a small group of rescue people trapped in the North Tower and their immediate response was, “You can’t be there because there is no North Tower.”
David: I have visited the 9/11 memorial five times, but what do you think of it and what should visitors focus on when they visit the 9/11 memorial?
Richard: I have visited it numerous times myself. To realize what happened there it’s almost like you don’t realize what actually happened there. I mean 3,000 people were murdered, and that’s what it was – these terrorists murdered 3,000 Americans that day. So to me it’s almost like hallowed ground. No matter who’s there, it’s a reverent place. It’s like people feel like they are in a sacred place and everyone just feels that. No one is telling them to not talk loud or anything, and then there is the enormity of the whole situation. The enormity of the buildings, of how many people were at work. Words just cannot describe out just how big this was and how many people were involved. There are estimates that fire departments got out close to 25,000 people that day from the surrounding areas.
David: God allowed you to survive for a reason. What message do you have for people that was imprinted in you as a result of that experience?
Richard: I get that question quite a bit. I think my answer is: “I survived to let other people know that there is hope in the world during tragedy.” Right now this country experienced two hurricanes, two major hurricanes, but we see how during tragedy people in this country come together. It’s tremendous. That’s what happened during September 11 and when I go around I try to tell people that when things like that happen, you have to put priorities on your life. People kinda get caught up in their lives and they don’t really realize what their priorities are – but when there’s a tragedy, your priorities fall right into place. Family, friends, they rise right to the top.
David: I think that’s a wonderful perspective. Thank you, Richard – we are honored to have you here with us.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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