Sickeningly loud thuds echo through the lobby of One World Trade Center. It is the sound of bodies landing on the atrium outside. Firefighter Joe Casaliggi from Engine 7 Ladder 1 is thinking, “How bad is it up there that the better option is to jump?”
Scenes like this one filled “9/11,” a documentary that aired Sunday night on CBS. Beginning in June, filmmaker brothers Gedeon and Jules Naudet followed Tony Benetatos, a rookie firefighter from Engine 7 Ladder 1, through his probationary period.
On the morning of Sept. 11 the crew was called to a possible gas leak two blocks away from the towers. In a matter of minutes the roaring of the first plane is heard from above, heading for Tower One.
Actually going through the documentary from day one of the probe’s training, a bond is made between the viewers and the firefighters. Bitter memories come to mind as we all relive the events that took place that day.
We see firefighters begin to climb the stairs thinking they could save so many people. It just shows how little they knew of what was yet to come. After the second tower is hit and it becomes evident that this wasn’t just an accident, the looks of disbelief can be seen in the rescuers’ eyes.
While in the lobby, all the firefighters from different companies came together to strategize about what can be done to get all those stuck above out, with no working elevators left to use. Mychal Judge, chaplain of the New York Fire Department, was alive at this time. You saw him speaking with the others at times, but at one point, he could be seen somewhat talking to himself, as if he were praying. As the first tower began to crumble down the camera shows these men running for cover, looking for anywhere to escape from death.
Unfortunately, the chaplain wasn’t able to. This was the first time I felt I knew someone there.
To see those who put their lives at risk to lead others down to safety shows nothing but courage. I remember seeing the photo of the chaplain’s body being carried away in several magazines and newspapers and although feeling sorrow for his family and those who knew him, never feeling any real connection to him.
When I first heard of the film and that it was to be aired on the six-month anniversary of this tragic event, I thought it was going to be a mockery of what happened. So many of us lost family, friends and the part of ourselves that felt safe in this country that stands for independence. We felt threatened for the first time. One of my first thoughts was that someone was just trying to make some money off of this terrible day in our lives. I was proved wrong.
These filmmakers gave us a view of what it really means to be a firefighter. What it must have been like to be trapped in those towers, not aware of what was going on outside those walls that the entire nation was seeing. Having put themselves in danger as well, these filmmakers couldn’t have put it any better. The film made you feel like you knew the people in it. Jules Naudet repeated what one of the firefighters said to him on Sept. 11. “When I came back that day to the firehouse one firefighter came to me and said, ‘you know yesterday you had one brother, today you have 50.'”
At the end of the film, Hanlon speaks about the probe Benetatos. “What didn’t make him a man in nine months made him a man in nine hours.”