September 24, 2001 12:00 PM

In New York City police are called the “Finest” and firefighters the “Bravest.” That morning, they showed why. While workers charged out of the World Trade Center, they charged in. Navigating the blackness, shouldering the stricken, providing oxygen masks and flushing victims’ soot-filled eyes, teams of rescue workers began spiriting to safety many of those trapped inside. Then the second plane hit, raining debris. Then the buildings collapsed, trapping rescuers. By nightfall the estimate of those missing or killed in the line of duty was more than 300 firefighters and at least 85 police officers. For Louie Cac-chioli, 51, a veteran of Engine 47 and one of the first firefighters to arrive at the World Trade Center, the missing includes at least 30 of his friends, all fellow fighters. Although he, too, plunged into the smoke to strap oxygen masks onto those still trapped, he says he is not a hero. “I didn’t do anything my brothers didn’t do,” he says. “I lost good people.”

The kind that turned up in droves at area hospitals, eagerly volunteering whatever services they could offer. At Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital Center, which treated approximately 170 victims, some 200 volunteer nurses and physicians dove into the work at hand—suturing wounds, dressing burns, consoling the wounded. “We’ve had people from all walks of the medical profession volunteer,” says James N. Saunders, a hospital spokesman. “Occupational therapists, students of podiatry, even dentists, believe it or not.” Other doctors and nurses had been scheduled to leave New York City on flights but, upon hearing the news, drove directly to the hospital to offer their help. “We had medical personnel come in from Colorado, California and all over the Northeast,” says Saunders.

Somehow, amid the shock and the carnage, such selflessness seemed perfectly natural. “How do they do it?” asked Pat Newman, whose husband, Danny, 43, is a firefighter who helped with the rescue efforts. “They love life and they are there to protect it. That’s how.”

Omar Wasow

30, Internet executive

I was outside when the first building collapsed and just started running down the street. This billowing cloud of dust was chasing me. It was like that scene from Indiana Jones where he’s running from that boulder. I went into a building and noticed a guy was bleeding. He said he’d had surgery on his Achilles tendon and the big cut across the back of his ankle split open while he was running. He couldn’t walk, so this other gentleman and I carried him to a drugstore, and they gave us some antiseptic and bandages. The store had run out of face masks, so I pulled some women’s stockings from a rack and figured out how to make masks out of them. As we were leaving with him, the second building collapsed, and we started running while carrying him. It was terrifying because all these military planes were flying overhead. We got to this building where some nurses had set up a small medical station, but he was scared and saying, “Please don’t leave me.” It was heart-wrenching. We managed to find a wheelchair, so a nurse and I wheeled him five blocks away to an NYU medical center. I was walking behind him, and he kept asking, “Are you still there?” I think he was worried because he was totally at the mercy of strangers, and he wanted to be reassured. I had to part ways with him at the hospital, but at that point he realized he was in good hands. All I know is his name was Rob and he worked in health-care investments. He was about 35. It wasn’t a time to exchange business cards, so I can just hope that I cross paths with him again someday.

Lt. Gregg Hansson

37, a firefighter with Engine Company 24

After the first plane crash, we made our way into the building, and up the stairs to the 35th floor. A lot of people were self-evacuating. Everyone was very calm. Of course we didn’t know what we would find when we got further up. Then a person from the 90th floor came by and said, “The plane is up there.” We got reports to evacuate the building and started to do that. What actually transpired next, I really don’t know.

Everything started to collapse. We all got covered with a lot of debris. You felt a hit and you felt a rush. I had no idea where it was coming from. There were still civilians in the building. We were trying to help them out. But at that point everything was dark and black, and you had to find your own way out.

I thought it was over. I thought I was going to die today. I started to say a little prayer and huddled in a corner and waited it out. Radio communications became almost nonexistent. I just heard silence. All I saw was black. I had lost my mask and search rope. We were exhausted from walking up 35 flights with all our equipment. When we got to the ground floor, I just tried to gather myself and crawl out of the building. Then eventually I saw a flashlight. I believe it might have been some Port Authority police officers.

Outside, I was trying to locate people, to see if I could account for everybody, to see who made it out and who was missing. It looked like a ghost town.

I know I am very lucky. I think that had there not been that second plane, this might have been a clean operation. We won’t know anything for a while. We are praying.

Kenneth Johannemann

36, janitor at 1 World Trade Center

My shift is 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. I’m always on time, but today I got lucky because I went on the 30th floor to get a cup of coffee. If I hadn’t gotten that cup of coffee, I would have gotten blown up on the elevator. I was waiting by the elevator to go do the restrooms, and then there was a big bang, and the whole building shook. The elevator door flew open, and a guy stumbled out, and he was badly burned up. It seemed like he was smoldering, almost.

He was a delivery guy. The skin from his wrist was hanging down past his fingertips. He was screaming all sorts of things like, “Bombing! Please get me out of here! I’m going to die!” I took him down the hallway right around the corner to my supervisor’s office. Me and another janitor grabbed the man and took him outside, one on each arm. There was an EMS truck already outside, and those guys just grabbed him and pushed us aside. I wish I knew what happened to him, but I have no idea. He was burned up bad but he was still alive. I really hope he survived.

Mark J. Heath

41, physician

I was working at my home when my wife called with the news. I knew I had to go help. I flagged down an ambulance and rode with them to the World Trade Center. I really didn’t see any casualties on the street. When we finally got set up, around two dozen people came to us. They had mostly broken bones, broken arms, cuts. No one was really saying anything; they were all mostly in shock. We took their medical histories, and we stabilized those who were injured so that they could be moved by ambulance uptown. I wish I could tell you we looked at hundreds of people and they all survived, but that didn’t happen.

After the second building came down, I could hear the firemen talking to each other on their radios. They were talking about going back into the 10 stories that were still standing. I thought it was incredibly brave.

By midday Tuesday, doctors at the Washington Hospital Center were in dire need of human skin transplants for seven burn victims of the Pentagon bombing. They contacted colleagues in Texas, the location of the closest, large available skin bank, who agreed to rush them 69-sq.-ft. of frozen human skin.

Ellen Heck

61, director of the Transplant Services Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

We were told that nothing was flying except Defense Department flights. I spent a long time on the telephone trying to organize an Air Force transfer of the skin with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Texas National Guard, but we just couldn’t coordinate it. So I told the Washington burn center, “If we can’t get it there by plane and you need it badly, we’ll drive it up.”

We packed the skin on dry ice and put it in our van. I asked who wanted to drive it, and these two guys were the first ones to raise their hands. They were in their scrubs, so we gave them an extra pair, a bag of peppermints and Tootsie Rolls, and made sure they had credit cards and cash.

Matthew Harris

29, medical technician

I’m at the wheel and I’m wide awake. I feel numb. Something strange has happened and you have to do something. You have to help. I’m shocked, and I’m angry. But this is what I’m able to do—dropping everything and traveling 1,328 miles for something desperately needed.

Eddie Perryman

28, medical technician

We stored the skin in foil pouches on liquid nitrogen and then put it on dry ice. We had three huge Styrofoam coolers in the back. Once we stopped in Little Rock, we checked the dry-ice levels. We stopped at the nearest hospital if it began to evaporate. The most we’ve ever driven was a few hours to deliver skin and corneas. But we printed a map off the Internet. It said this was 22 to 28 hours, depending on traffic.

We went slightly over the speed limit, but within safety. I’ve always wanted a chance to help. Unfortunately it came at a time like this.

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