“I knew that building was coming down,” he told the audience — and other emergency workers. “They thought I was crazy.”
What he thought was crazy, however, was the discovery that commanders had set up staging areas and emergency care stations in the worst possible place. They established their command posts “in the lobby of the World Trade Center” Twin Towers buildings. First he told people to get out of there. Some left, some stayed. Those who remained refused his orders. So instead, he said, he forced them out. He wouldn't take "no" for an answer. He cleared the lobby.
Of course, he was right. What he was wrong on was how long it would take. Hours, he had thought. It was 55 minutes since impact as he was walking away from the tower. One floor of a building fell about 15 feet, landing on another floor that, while it could hold a stable building above it, was never meant to support a building dropping on it. Combined with damage to the structure from fire and stress, each floor collapsed as the one above it landed.
“I ran as fast as I could. I figured I had about 10 seconds to live, and was afraid they’d never find my body, to be able to identify me,” he said.
He aimed for a small foot bridge he thought would keep his corpse relatively intact. The wind from the collapsing building yanked his helmet off. He ran on a few more seconds but never quite made it to the bridge. He was struck by a beam that cracked his skull open. The lieutenant went down, still conscious. A cement block dropped on him, breaking ribs and causing internal bleeding. More debris kept falling until he was buried, with additional smashed bones.
“It was darker than midnight,” he said. “I heard screams around me, but couldn’t see anything. The screams [continued], but turned to crying. Then there was just [quiet whimpering] until finally, there was silence, and I knew all those people [buried around me] were dead.”