Responding Heroes: Remembering September 11, 2001

A special exhibition curated by The National EMS Museum

in partnership with the Atlanta History Center

September 11, 2001 is a date many Americans carry close to their hearts. For those who witnessed the tragic events unfold, there is a memory permanently etched in their hearts and minds. For those who are learning about September 11th through teachers, parents, and other community members, the stark photos and vivid memories become a living story of tragedy, patriotism, and hope.

For the people of New York City, Washington, DC, and those in Pennsylvania, it was a day of unimaginable loss and fragility. For Americans across the country, it was a day that changed our lives indefinitely as millions rushed to phones and emails to check in on loved ones and friends. Amid the chaos and tragedy, September 11th was also the day the United States showed resilience. We became united in service to those who needed help the most.

Responding Heroes: Remembering September 11, 2001 offers you, the visitor, a snapshot of the events of September 11, 2001. We share with you the legacy and passion of the first responders and bystanders who answered the call that morning and who have worked to preserve the memory of the fallen ever since. Please take your time going through the exhibit. It may be an emotional experience for you and that is ok.

Thank you for helping us honor our brothers and sisters who responded that fateful morning.

The Morning that Changed America

When they were completed in 1971, 1 & 2 World Trade Center (dubbed the Twin Towers) were the tallest buildings in the Manhattan skyline and were a beehive of activity for business and tourists alike.

The Pentagon has stood as a symbol of the United States military and fortitude since construction began on the banks of the Potomac River in September 1941.

United States Department of Defense, c.1945

Both sites have been, and remain today, a symbol of the American spirit and a testament to resiliency and the enduring patriotism for many across the world.

"One of the things I remember most was that it was a beautiful September morning. After that it was more of a blur." ~Glenn L., Director, Sussex County Emergency Medical Services, Delaware

What is presented in this section is a scaled down timeline for those unfamiliar with the chain of events on September 11, 2001. All times are presented in Eastern Daylight Time and as reported through news outlets at the time.

Throughout the exhibit, first responders and members of the public share their memories of their experience on September 11, 2001 and the days that followed.

Memories are a funny thing, and can change with time as we go about our lives and new experiences imprint new memories over older ones. But memories of tragic events bond us to each other and to the past even if the details are blurred or forgotten. Memories shared here are experiences remembered, as they imprinted in the hours, months and years following September 11th.

“We were in class and my 5th grade teacher told us what was happening and turned on the TV. She was told to not show us the news but she shut the classroom door and asked us to be quiet and watch. She knew this was a very sad day for our country and wanted us to be able to see history in the making.” - Ryan C., Firefighter

7:59 am – American Airlines Flight 11 leaves Boston bound for Los Angeles. On board are eleven crew, seventy-six passengers and five hijackers.

8:14 am – United Airlines Flight 175 leaves Boston, bound for Los Angeles. On board are nine crew, fifty-one passengers and five hijackers.

8:20 am – American Airlines Flight 77 leaves Washington Dulles International Airport, also en-route to Los Angeles. On board are six crew, fifty-three passengers and five hijackers.

8:19 am – American Airlines Flight 11 crew member Betty Ann Ong contacts ground personnel with an inflight phone to report the plane being hijacked. The cockpit is unreachable. Shortly before the call begins, the first fatality of 9/11 occurs - Daniel M. Lewin, seated in first class, was stabbed by one of the hijackers. Lewin had served for four years in the Israeli army, and it is suggested he may have tried to stop the hijackers.

8:21 am – Two minutes into Ong’s call to ground personnel, the hijackers switch off the transponder of Flight 11 - the device that allows for air traffic control to identify and monitor the plane’s flight path from the ground. Ong is able to provide the seat numbers of the hijackers, and other vital information during her call. American Airlines authorities send this information to their operations center in Texas.

8:24 am – Hijacker Mohamed Atta makes the first of two attempts to communicate with passengers and crew on board, but accidentally transmits to air traffic control both times.

8:30 AM - Morning activities begin at the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers (1 & 2 WTC), Marriott Hotel (3 WTC), four office buildings (4, 5, 6 & 7 WTC), and a public plaza. The area is also major transportation hub for the city and is now filling quickly with people.

* Conferences begin in The North Tower and the Marriott - Hundreds of attendees start to make their way up to conference rooms for the day.

* Windows on the World Restaurant is open for breakfast, diners are enjoying their meals and staff continue to prepare for the lunch rush and evening events.

* An evening dance performance on the outdoor plaza is scheduled.

* An information session for the Peace Corps is scheduled for that evening.

8:32 AM - Flight 11 crew member Madeline Amy Sweeney manages to get in touch, after several failed attempts, with a friend at Boston Logan International Airport.

Sweeney spends 12 minutes relaying details on the perpetrators and events that have unfolded thus far.

8:37 AM - US Air Force’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) mobilize Air National Guard jets from Otis Air Force Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts, to find and follow Flight 11.

8:42 AM - United Airlines Flight 93 leaves Newark International Airport, behind schedule due to routine tarmac traffic. On board are seven crew, thirty-three passengers and four hijackers.

8:46 AM - Hijackers of Flight 11 crash into 1 World Trade Center (North Tower), directly hitting floors 93 through 99. All passengers, crew and hijackers aboard are killed, along with hundreds inside the North Tower, trapping hundreds more who were on floors above the impact site.

8:46:05 AM - Paramedics, firefighters, and police are dispatched to The North Tower to assist with evacuation and the injured. En-route to the scene FDNY Chief Joseph Pfeifer calls for a second, and then third alarm. The official response time reported from FDNY was 5 seconds from alarm to on scene arrival.

8:50 AM - US President George W. Bush is informed that a small plane has hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At the time, Bush and his advisers believed this to be a much smaller scale scenario and assumed the crash to be an accident.

8:59 AM - Port Authority Officials issue orders for both towers to be evacuated. A minute later, orders for evacuation extended to the whole World Trade Center complex.

9:03 AM - Flight 175 is flown into floors 75 through 85 of the South Tower (2 World Trade Center) killing all on board and hundreds in the building. People trapped above the impact site turn to the roof for evacuation.

9:08 AM - The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) grounds all flights in and out of New York airports. Flights divert to as far away as Atlanta and Newfoundland, Canada.

9:21 AM - New York Port Authority closes off access to Manhattan, including all bridges, ports and tunnels to the island. The Transit Authority suspends subway service to Manhattan.

9:24 AM - FAA notifies NEADS of the suspected hijacking of Flight 77 after passengers and crew make contact with friends and family on the ground. NEADS scrambles jets in the air to track the flight.

9:31 AM - President Bush addresses the nation calling the disaster in New York City "an apparent terrorist attack on our country"

9:37 AM - Flight 77 is flown into the western facade of the Pentagon, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, killing all on board and 127 military and civilian personnel.

9:42 AM - FAA grounds all flight in the continental United States. Over the next two hours, airplanes in US airspace were guided into airports across North America. The skies over the US went silent for the first time in aviation history.

By 9:45 AM - High profile buildings, centers of commerce, and tourist attractions across the country started evacuations as rumors of more attacks circulate nationwide.

9:59 AM - The South Tower (2 World Trade Center) collapses in New York City sending a cloud of debris across lower Manhattan.

Survivors report “In seconds, it was dark as night and nothing but building debris and dust all around us."

10:07 AM - Hijacked Flight 93 crashes into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania after crew and passengers learn of the other hijacked aircraft and try to regain control of their flight. All crew and passengers were killed.

10:28 AM - The North Tower (1 World Trade Center) collapses 102 minutes after being struck by Flight 11. Rescue personnel and survivors flee to shops, vehicles, and office building to avoid flying debris and dust.

Throughout the afternoon, Lower Manhattan is evacuated and millions are displaced from their homes and businesses. Rescue crews look for survivors among the wreckage and families waited to hear from loved ones.

5:27 PM - 7 World Trade Center collapses and is the last building to fall as a result of the attacks earlier that morning. Responders, who initially fled the collapsing building, return to the scene to continue their recovery efforts.

“First responders responding to 9/11, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania demonstrated the epitome of service, commitment, and sacrifice. They were heroes to thousands they’d never meet.” ~Kevin C., Southern Madison County Volunteer Ambulance Corps Alumni and Ground Zero Responder
Photo courtesy of JEMS

By the time the news traveled across the country, responders in New York, Washington, DC and rural Pennsylvania were running into debris fields. In New York the Port Authority had set up a perimeter and started the WTC command center. The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and New York Police Department (NYPD) also set up command centers as crews from surrounding areas raced to get into the city to help…

In Washington, DC the attack on the Pentagon triggered a military response and closure of the area around the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and government buildings in DC. Private responders came into the District to help triage care and support local responders in serving the community as needed...

In Somerset County, Pennsylvania, local responders rushed to the scene of the crash…

At each location, responders prepared to triage patients and makeshift treatment areas were constructed in the safe zone away from Ground Zero and the Pentagon.

The responders waited... and waited, but the rush of patients never came. Slowly, those responding at the scene pulled out and reported the grim reality everyone feared.

"They're all gone!"

"There is nothing left."

They said the Air was Safe at Ground Zero

Over the course of the days and weeks that followed, deployment teams from across the country descended on New York City and Washington, DC to help in the recovery efforts.

For weeks the air was filled with an unknown amount of carcinogens ranging from printer ink and concrete dust to asbestos, biological matter and aerosol chemicals.

The importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) during these types of responses became evident in the years since the initial attacks.

Although some responders had masks, respirators, and Tyvek suits to protect them from the dust and debris in "The Pile" many did not...

As a result, 9/11 illness (including cancers, chronic diseases, dementia and mental illness) have been the leading causes of death for the responders who worked the site at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"We went to Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and Shanksville to help people first, then help their families bury someone or something... but there are more and more responders getting sick ... and its not just in New York..." - Luis A., former NYPD Detective

Since September 12, 2001 responders and Americans around the world vowed to never forget one of the most tragic days in US history. Each year first responders from across the country mark the anniversary with soulful services, moments of silence, and special programs to keep the story of heroism alive.


With the help of artists dedicated to preserving the experience and the memory of those who raced towards the sites on September 11, 2001, The National EMS Museum honors our first responders around the country and we remember those who lost their lives in service to their communities.

The artwork created in this section commemorates the day and those who worked on The Pile at Ground Zero. Each artist has contributed their thoughts and memories as well as the memories of their subjects. These collections are first hand memories of the Responding Heroes of September 11, 2001.

NEVER FORGET Stone Carved Lithograph

Brenda Berkman is a retired FDNY Captain who responded to Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. Although Brenda has created pieces throughout her career, her passion in retirement has been to highlight and share the diversity of experiences of first responders of every background through her many projects.

Brenda Berkman on site, World Trade Center
Self-Portrait, 2001 and 2011, BrendaBerkmanArtworks

Kate Bergen is a New Jersey Paramedic-Artist whose artwork features the untold story of women of EMS. In her new series Women of 9/11, Kate highlights those who responded to Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The National EMS Museum is fortunate enough to partner with Kate on this project and has collected recollections and stories from some of the women featured in her collection to give a permanent voice to the Women of 9/11.

2021 is not how any of us imagined. As we remember our past, we must remember the sacrifices being made everyday by heroes on the frontlines spending another day away from family fighting COVID-19. We pause to honor all the responders who have fought and continue to fight to keep us safe and help us in our time of need. Please mask up and vaccinate as we continue to fight COVID-19

Donna Krammer

Emergency Medical Technician

Fire Department of New York

Brenda Berkman

Captain (Retired)

Fire Department of New York

Tayna Justin


DC Fire Department (Washington, DC)

Carey Policastro

Chief (Retired)

New York Police Department

“There was this little 13-inch black and white TV sitting on a counter in the middle of the airport office...This was the first time I actually saw the Twin Towers come down, and I just started to cry. I’m a cop. I’m a New Yorker. Nothing fazes me. But this was something totally different.”

Debra Bell


New Jersey Medical Response Task Force

Deb Faiello & Caeser

New Jersey State Police Search and Rescue

Feel Through My Eyes

by Kate Bergen

Art is up to interpretation, this was a strong emotional piece for me and I would like to share with you what I see… First, (the obvious) I see two people hugging in a real hug by how tightly they hold each other. I wonder, do they know each other or are they so overcome with emotion that this was a natural release? Second, I am drawn to this man’s eyes, I want to know his story, what has he been though, I want to say to him, tell me what hurt you, lay down your burden, and please share with me. I see anguish, I see desperation, but more than that I see an undertone of hope; hope that there can finally be change desperately needed despite a gruesome past. Third, despite all that he has been through, all of the prejudices he has endured based solely on the color of his skin, he puts that aside for the sake of unity, moving forward and understanding one another. The compassion in this man’s eyes is immeasurable. And this officer? I wonder what he has been through in his career. He has undoubtedly seen many evils out there but still continues to serve with compassion in his heart. Is his family worried he won’t come home tonight? Is he now targeted because of a uniform? Is the irony lost on him? I admire these men, I see the beginning of healing, a glimmer radiating from this man’s eyes found in the common ground of compassion for human life. My heart hurts for them both, I stand behind them both, behind good humans being good to one another.

I don’t have any magic words to heal, I don’t know the answers and I won’t pretend to. I do know that many uncomfortable conversations are necessary to move forward as a nation. It may not be much, but I chose painting as a way to share my voice, to share the love I feel towards others and encourage much needed healing.

There is so much hurt and anger, so much that needs to be said, and so much that needs to change. I can only hope that a step forward together, one embrace at a time is the new beginning that this country needs. Stay safe and God Bless.

At The National EMS Museum we strive to collect and share as many stories as we can about responders across the country and the stories of the communities they serve. If you are willing and able we would like to invite you to contribute your 9/11 story to The National EMS Museum archives through our online portal below. Thank you for making your story part of our story.

Divinity Among Heroes, by Joe Pisano. is dedicated to the responders and civilians who lost their lives at the World Trade Center and lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. The piece is 12 feet tall and constructed from thousands of drywall screws and other mundane building material. The piece contains patches, gauges, and other artifacts from family members donated to the project to help keep the memory of their loved ones alive. You can visit Divinity Among Heroes on the USS Midway, downtown San Diego September 11 & 12, 10am to 5pm

Honoring our EMS Fallen

The following emergency medical responders lost their lives on September 11, 2001 or in the years since as a result of their service on September 11th. Although they are gone, they are not forgotten.

(if your loved one should be on this list please contact us at info@ emsmuseum. org)

Those we lost 9/11/2001

Paramedic Keith Fairben, NY Presbyterian Hospital EMS *

Paramedic Carlos Lillo, FDNY EMS *

Paramedic Yamel Merino, Montefiore Medical Center EMS *

EMT Richard Pearlman, Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps *

Paramedic Ricardo Quinn, FDNY EMS

Paramedic Mario Santoro, NY Presbyterian Hospital EMS

Mark Schwartz, Hunter Ambulance EMS (Mutual Aid Response System)

EMT Marc Sullins, Cabrini Medical Center EMS

Those we have lost since 2001

EMT Andre Lahens, FDNY

Lieutenant Brendan Pearson, FDNY EMS

Paramedic David Restuccio, Staten Island University Hospital

EMT Yadira Arroyo, FDNY

EMT-Firefighter Brian Belcher, FDNY

EMT Roisin Coohill, Midwood Ambulance

EMT-Firefighter James Coyle, FDNY

EMT-Firefighter Andre Fletcher, FDNY

EMT John D'Allara, NYPD

EMT Vincent Danz, NYPD

EMT Rodney Gillis, NYPD (Emergency Service Unit)

EMT Lauren Grandcolas

EMT Linda Gronlund

EMT-Firefighter Joe Henry, FDNY

Paramedic Felix Hernandez, FDNY EMS

George Howard, PAPD

EMT Stephen Huczko, PAPD

EMT-Firefighter Karl Joseph, FDNY

EMT Je Jung

EMT Thomas Jurgens

EMT-Firefighter Michael Kiefer, FDNY

Paramedic Charles Laurencin, US Air Force

Paramedic David Lemange, PAPD

EMT Joe Lovero, Jersey City FD

EMT Cynthia Mahoney

Paramedic Kathy Mazza, PAPD

EMT Ryan McCormick, UMDNJ EMS

EMT Jean Peterson, Madison Ambulance Squad

Paramedic, Kevin Pfeifer FDNY

EMT Richard Rodriguez, PAPD

EMT Jeff Simpson, Dumfries-Triangle Rescue Squad (VA)

Paramedic John Skala, PAPD, Clifton, NJ

EMT Frank Spinelli, Short Hill, NJ Volunteer Ambulance Corps

Paramedic Daniel Stewart, FDNY EMS

EMT Kenneth Swenson, Chatham Emergency Squad

EMT-Firefighter Sean Tallon, FDNY

EMT Clive Thompson. Summit, NJ Volunteer Ambulance Corps

EMT- Firefighter Hector Tirado, FDNY

EMT Mitchel Wallace, Bayside Volunteer Ambulance Corps

EMT Glenn Winuk Jericho Fire Department

EMT Zhe Zeng, Rochester, NY Brighton Volunteer Ambulance

Timothy Patrick Keller, FDNY EMS

Deborah Reeve, FDNY EMS

Brian Ellicott, FDNY EMS

Clyde F. Sealey, FDNY EMS

Carene A. Brown, FDNY EMS

Freddie Rosario, FDNY EMS

John McFarland, FDNY EMS

Anthony Ficara, FDNY EMS

Joseph V. Schiumo, FDNY EMS

Ruben Berrios, FDNY EMS

Tyrone Rogers, FDNY EMS

Douglas Mulholland, FDNY EMS

Rudy Havelka, FDNY EMS

Francis Charles, FDNY EMS

John W. Wyatt, FDNY EMS

Luis de Peña, Jr., FDNY EMS

Michael Cavanagh, FDNY EMS

Linda Ohlsen, FDNY EMS

Walter J. Nelson, FDNY

William C. Olsen, FDNY EMS

Thomas V. Giammarino, FDNY EMS

Harold McNeil, FDNY EMS

Norman Valle, FDNY EMS

Edith Torres, FDNY EMS

Rose Scott, FDNY EMS

Mario Bastidas, FDNY EMS

Mark Harris, FDNY EMS

Dr. Michael G. Guttenberg, Director, Northwell Health Center for EMS

Joeddy E. Friszell, FDNY

William Ryan, Bay Community Volunteer Ambulance Corps

Martha Stewart, FDNY

Joseph A. Rodriguez, FDNY

Felipe A. Torre, FDNY

EMT Donnell Ben-Levy Ford, Brookdale Hospital EMT

Thank you to the Sponsors & Exhibition Partners

Dr. Richard A. Clinchy * Scot Phelps * Brenda Berkman * Kate Bergen * Freedom Flag Foundation * The Van Scott Family * Joe Pisano * George Contreras * Bonnie Giebfried * Paul Roman * NEMSM Volunteer Team: Deb, Stephanie, Mike & Fred *

Founded in 2006, The National EMS Museum is dedicated to preserving the legacy and story of the Emergency Medical Services and first responders through engaging exhibits and programs that highlight 300 years of innovation and care.

The Museum is fully funded by private support and through the support of their members. Visit emsmuseum.org to learn more or to join The National EMS Museum Crew.

All images and text under copyright. Do not reproduce without express written consent from The National EMS Museum and/or the copyright holder. Requests for use and reproduction can be made to info@ emsmuseum.org


Created with images from the National EMS Museum Collection and by geralt - "world trade center wtc new york city" • Alexas_Fotos - "nine eleven 11 september" • GLady - "one world trade center manhattan owtc" • MonieLuv - "twin towers nyc new" • 3093594 - "memorial concrete blocks concrete" • ThePixelman - "plane flight sunset" • WikiImages - "world trade center twin towers terrorist attack" • WikiImages - "pentagon stop 11 september"