Today is the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. It is a time to remember those who are gone. It is part of our nation’s fiber to commemorate the fallen, to commemorate heroes.
I have a problem with the word ‘hero’. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines hero as “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities”. Since 9/11 it has been used incorrectly to describe anyone who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, though I completely understand the reasons and emotions behind this. I feel the greatest sadness and respect for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, but it’s intellectually dishonest to call someone a hero, who, when all is said and done, was merely a victim of circumstance. And it seems, somehow, to lessen the achievements of those who truly deserve the term.
People like Frank A. De Martini (architect) Pablo Ortiz (construction inspector) Peter Negron (environmental specialist) and Carlos DaCosta (general manager of building services).
Mr. De Martini was the construction manager for the World Trade Center. If you needed alterations to your office space, he was the man you saw. Mr. Ortiz, as a construction inspector was responsible for making sure the job was done right. It wasn’t in their job descriptions to be in the frontlines of life-saving efforts in the North Tower, but they were. Even before most first responders arrived, while people were desperately trying to get down, they headed up.
After De Martini and his team made certain that everyone on the 88th floor had a clear way down, De Martini sent his wife down with them, telling her he would follow shortly. He knew there would be people trapped above. De Martini and his crew headed for the 89th floor.
Those who were trapped by a jammed door in the offices of Drinker, Biddle & Reath were grateful when Mr. Ortiz smashed through with a crowbar. The twenty-three people from the office on the 89th floor were directed down, but they saw Ortiz start up to the 90th floor.
While the building still stood, De Martini and his crew ranged from the 90th to the 78th floors, prying open doors, clearing escape routes and sending people down the stairways. On the 78th floor Mr. De Martini helped free Anthony Savas, a co-worker who was stuck in an elevator. Savas got out of the elevator but not out of the building. He may have stayed to help De Martini’s crew, and waited too long.
From 78 De Martini radioed out a warning that the express elevators were in danger of collapse. I have always wondered if, by then, he suspected what was going to happen, but selflessly stayed on, as long as there was a possibility of helping others.
As Greg Trapp, a security guard, started down the stairs from 78, he saw De Martini and his crew head toward the other end of the hall. I can find no record of anyone who saw or had radio communication with Frank De Martini, Pablo Ortiz, Pete Negron, or Carlos DaCosta after that time. They had freed more than fifty people (we may never know how many more) and paid the ultimate price for doing so. Their jobs didn’t require it, but their humanity did. I don’t think you’ll find a better definition of ‘hero’, nor anyone more deserving of it.
(Many thanks to Cyrakitty for invaluable help on this post.)