NY firefighter narrowly escaped World Trade Center collapse
Posted September 8, 2011
New York — For the people who lived the horrifying moments inside the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the images are still vivid and the emotion and sacrifices are still very real.
That's the case for Arty Riccio, a New York City firefighter from Queens. Ten years ago, he was based in Brooklyn and was among the emergency workers responding that day.
"People were jumping, hitting the ground. The thump – it was heartbreaking," he said Thursday, three days before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States.
For Riccio, even the smell haunts him.
"It was like a burning metal. There was blood and dirt," he recalled.
It was a desperate situation for the people trapped in the towers and for those who would try to bring them to safety.
Riccio was on the 21st floor of the North Tower when the South Tower collapsed. He was told to get out immediately.
"We started coming down, and on the 18th floor, there was a woman – she was just huddled in a corner, crying like an infant," Riccio remembered.
The woman was in shock after seeing the South Tower collapse.
"We put her in a chair, picked her up in a chair, and we carried her down 18 flights," Riccio said.
Tired, and operating in near total darkness, with smoke, fire and debris all around, the descent was difficult.
"When I was going down, my legs were getting rubbery, my arms were getting rubbery. I kept telling myself, 'Don't quit,'" Riccio said.
He didn't, and when he finally got to the ground floor, he took the woman to waiting paramedics.
The ground shook.
"I look up. The North Tower is coming down on top of us," Riccio recalled. "It was like a black tidal wave."
But after the torturous rescue, he couldn't move.
"They always tell you in a collapse, to try to get to a wall in between the doorway," he said. "I knew I was under the highway, and I knew the cement stand was in the middle. I rolled, I tucked, and I said, 'All right, God, if this is what you want.'"
Riccio survived the collapse. To this day, though, he's unsure if the woman he carried survived. He never got her name.
It was just that kind of day.
"I feel everybody who died there felt that," he said. "'We can't do anything. If this is what God wants, I'm ready for it.'"