NATO Engages 2019

9/11 and Article 5

Speaker: Tim Brown, Retired Firefighter, New York Fire Department, 9/11 Survivor

Introducer: Nik Gowing, Founder and Director, Thinking the Unthinkable

Location: Washington, DC

Time: 3:30 PM EDT
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

NIK GOWING: Secretary General, thank you very much. And Andrea, thank you very much indeed.

In 50 minutes, we’ll be breaking for tea, coffee, juice, water, or just fresh air. One of the things we’ve been doing since 9 o’clock this morning is telling stories. And that’s what we’d like to do again now.

9/11 has come up many times today as a catalyst for, obviously, Afghanistan and what’s going on still, and the big NATO commitment. And we shouldn’t forget the people of New York City, those who were there on the day 18 years ago now. And one of them is with us today. He was with the New York City Fire Department. He was involved right at the heart of the operation.

It’s something which still lives with him– the emotions of it, and particularly the number of his colleagues who are no longer with us, and others who are still suffering, including those in the community around the whole area where the planes hit the towers. So let me introduce Tim Brown from the New York Fire Department, who can relate to you what it’s like 18 years on– and he was involved in other incidents in New York City as well– the emotions, the passion, and how it’s shaped his life since. Tim, the floor is yours.

TIM BROWN: Thank you, Nik. Thank you.


On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was a New York City firefighter detailed to Mayor Giuliani’s Office of Emergency Management. Our office was 7 World Trade Center, so we were in the complex when the first plane flew over the roof of our building and slammed into the North Tower.

My job was to go to the command post inside the North Tower, but I wanted to get my equipment on first. So I went to my car, to the trunk, and I put on my helmet and boots. And I wanted to get a look at the building. Now, understand that we’re underneath this. Everyone that has a television around the world now is watching what’s happening. But this is my size up, like this. We’re unaware.

I went into the building at the plaza level, and I went down one level on the escalator to where the command post was inside the North Tower. There were a lot of people trying to escape on that escalator, hundreds of office workers. And I noticed something in that moment that has always stuck with me. Instead of doing what you think they would be doing– pushing, trampling, elbowing each other out of the way– the exact opposite thing was happening.

For every person who was obese, pregnant, disabled, injured, there were four or five– not firefighters or police officers, but regular office workers who were helping that person. And I said to myself, no matter what happens to us today, we’re going to be OK. Because that’s the true human spirit. That’s the real human spirit of goodness and love.

I went down that escalator to the street level in the lobby of the North Tower. And the first person I saw was my friend Chris Blackwell, a firefighter who I’d worked with in the Bronx. As we always did, Chris took the unlit stub of his cigar out of his mouth, and he kissed me on the lips, and he put the cigar back in his mouth. That’s how we always greeted each other. And he said to me, Timmy, this is really bad. I said, I know, Chris. Be careful.

And what did Chris do? He went in that stairwell, and he went up to help people, people he didn’t know. Because that was his job. I heard my name. Timmy! And I looked over across the sea of firefighters awaiting their assignments. And it was my best friend, Terry Hatton, the captain of Rescue 1, the elite of the New York Manhattan Fire Department.

I ran over to my best friend. He was this big, 6’4″. And he wrapped his arms around me, and he squeezed me tight to his chest, and he kissed me on the cheek. And he said to me, I love you, brother. I may never see you again. He said those words to me.

And what did Terry and his men do, men from Rescue 1 do? They went in the stairwell, and they went up to help people, innocent human beings who needed help. A plane hit the South Tower. Now everybody knows, the world knows, and we know– terrorist attack. They assign myself in Chief Donald burns to the South Tower. As we were running over, I had a little conversation with Chief Burns.

What do you need me to do, Chief? He said, Timmy, there’s not much you and I can do. Do your best and be careful. A woman came over to us yelling, there are people trapped in the South Tower, or in the elevator in the South Tower. Chief Burns said, go with her. I’m going to the command post. I followed her to the elevator lobby, and she took me to one elevator, and the doors were open. You could see into the shaft.

But the elevator car had not come down all the way. Just about six or eight inches at the top, you could see all the feet of the people who were trapped in that elevator car. And they were screaming. I didn’t know it at the time, but that elevator car had free fallen 70 floors. Because when the second plane came in, it snapped the cable.

It worked as it should. The emergency brake stopped it from smashing into the concrete. But the elevator pit below them was full of jet fuel that was on fire, and they were above it. They were getting burned. A firefighter came over to me, and I looked over, and it was my friend Mike Lynch. And Mike put his hand on my shoulder, and he said to me, I got it.

He had the training, the experience, the tools and equipment– because he brought a whole fire truck with him– and the intestinal fortitude to save the lives of those people. I later told his widow, Denise, that in that moment, when he said, Timmy, I got it, he may as well have had angel’s wings coming out of his back.

We had word of a third plane coming to attack us confirmed. I ran to the command post to call the White House. We need help. Couldn’t get through. Tried to get to the Pentagon. They told us the Pentagon is under attack. That’s the first we knew of it.

I talked to New York State Emergency Management. They assured me that the planes– the fighter jets are coming to protect us overhead. We’re already thinking military help. I left the South Tower because I needed to get the paramedics in there to start helping these people who were injured.

I found the paramedics, brought them back in. Myself, three paramedics were running with the stretcher. And we’re on the sidewalk just outside of the South Tower, about 20 feet from the door, when the building collapsed. It was a loud crack first, like lightning struck right next to me. And then it was progressive collapse– boom, boom, boom– as it comes down. I know we cannot outrun a collapse. Get into the Marriott Hotel next door to protect us.

We went into the Marriott. It was as clear as this, and like that, it went pitch black. We hit the ground. We all lost each other. The wind picked up. The noise picked up. The dust was in our face. We couldn’t breathe.

Tower 2 was collapsing on the Marriott Hotel, and the Marriott Hotel was collapsing around us. I knew from my training and experience that a vertical column is the strongest part of a building, your best chance at living. I found a vertical column. I wrapped my arms around it. The wind was trying to push me out of this building into the street. My legs were up in the air.

The noise was like being on the tarmac at John F Kennedy airport surrounded by 747s, full blast. Unbelievable. I just held on to that pillar and waited to be crushed to death. And I thought how unfair it was that I couldn’t hold my family one more time. And then just like that, it stopped.

The wind stopped. The noise stopped. We couldn’t breathe. We bounced around in that little area of the Marriott Hotel, which is one of the few places where anyone survived, until a fireman came across the rubble from the outside to tell us to follow him out.

That’s my story of survival. I want to do some numbers with you. On the morning of September 11, 2001, 2,977 innocent human beings were murdered by radical Islamic terrorists. And you notice I didn’t say 2,977 Americans, because that would not be accurate. When you go into the wonderful September 11th Memorial and Museum, you’ll see 90 flags from 90 countries. That’s because the nationalities of the people who were murdered that morning were from 90 countries.

So this was not just an attack on New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, America. This was an attack on humanity. In fact, if you think about it, it was good against evil in the bigger picture. Look at the signs of good we had that day– Chris Blackwell, firefighter, going up the stairs. And he knew it. He told me. My best friend Terry Hatton going up the stairs. He knew it. He told me.

Those people on the escalator– instead of pushing each other out of the way, they were helping each other. This is the goodness of humanity. And in the end, goodness wins. Right?

658 innocent human beings from one firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, over 400 first responders murdered, heroes who chose to do what Terry did, go in and go up. Over 2,500 New York City firefighters are sick today from breathing the dust. If you look on the screen here on the sides, you’ll see a pencil drawing by Pennsylvania school teacher Jeff Greer that embodies how I feel about US intelligence and military and also our allies.

It’s a New York City firefighter in the rubble of the World Trade Center passing the American flag to a US soldier who says, I’ll take it from here. It was the first time we were overwhelmed and needed the help of our intelligence community and our military.

And what did that mean? That meant our allies also. I think I heard the number earlier– over 2,000 NATO troops who went to war on our behalf, personally, on my behalf, on behalf of my friends, my 93 friends who were murdered on September 11th. We were overwhelmed. We needed the world to come to our side.

And NATO, the NATO countries, came to our side and paid for it with treasure and blood in honor of my friends. And so what I can say to you today is thank you for coming to our side. Thank you to you. And may we always be allies if this happens in one of your countries or if it happens here again in America. Thank you.