‘God Left Me Alive To Do This’: FDNY Veteran Tim Brown Recalls the Heroism and Horror of 9/11
Sept. 11, 2001, was a beautiful Tuesday morning. Blue skies, no humidity. The kind of morning pilots call “severe clear.” Tim Brown was a 17-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department on that fateful day when he and hundreds of other first responders worked to rescue people from unfolding chaos and destruction. As many Americans watched the horrifying scene play out on their television screens, Brown and a group of paramedics were within 20 feet of the south tower when it began to collapse.
“It was so loud and so immediately obvious what was happening,” Brown says.
The collapsing floors forced air down and out of the tower with so much force that wind speeds at street level surpassed those of category-five hurricanes.
“One piece of steel cracked, and it reverberated through lower Manhattan,” Brown says. “I turned around and told the paramedics to follow me.”
Brown was taught that, when a building collapses, you can’t outrun it. Your best chance of survival is to get next to a strong vertical column, such as a support beam. At the entrance of the Marriott hotel — specifically, the Tall Ships Bar & Grill — was a vertical steel beam, strong enough to support the 22-story building.
“In the snap of a finger, everything went pitch black,” Brown recalls.
The collapse created a surge of smoke and debris that snuffed out all light and breathable air. Dust instantly filled Brown’s ears, nose, eyes, and mouth. His legs lifted off the ground, parallel to the floor from the 185 mph rush of air. The noise was so loud Brown could only compare it to sitting on a stool in the middle of the tarmac at JFK International Airport, surrounded by 747s with their engines at full-throttle. It took nine seconds for 110 floors of concrete, steel, and people to collapse around him.
Twenty years later, Brown is alive to tell the tale, and he says his life’s purpose now is to tell the stories of the hundreds of brave first responders and ordinary citizens who perished while helping others on 9/11.