Hugh Mettham was a Port Washington resident working as a New York City firefighter on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. He and his company were among the first emergency personnel to respond to reports of a plane crash at the World Trade Center and arrived at the site before either tower had collapsed. In this oral history interview, Mr. Mettham describes the devastating scene at Ground Zero directly after the Towers were hit, entering the buildings to help evacuate people from the lower floors, and the collapse of the North Tower. He also discusses the firefighters and emergency personnel who lost their lives during the events of 9/11 and the changes to the fire departments’ training and response procedures in the aftermath.
“So, at this time, we went up to the sixth floor, and we just did a quick search there. And it was at that time we heard this large rumble, or roar. Almost like a freight train that’s right on top of you. And it just continued for ten or fifteen seconds. The North Tower shook just like, just kind of, you almost felt like it was moving a little bit, you know…And we all kind of crouched down…then, at that particular point, the stairwell started to fill up with smoke and dust. And it came very quickly. And we didn’t know if it was coming up or down…And it just came so fast, and it just became dark…it became very unnerving for the people coming down, because they said, they started yelling, ‘We’re trapped. We can’t go down. We can’t go up. We’re trapped!’ So, at this particular point, we said, ‘All right, all right, let’s, we’ve really got to help these people right now. We’ve got to get these people down.’”
“And we looked south…and we realized that something happened south of the north Tower…it looked like just something out of a war scene, out of Dresden or something…I said, ‘Harry, get up now, ‘cause we’ve got to leave right now.’ … And he got up, and we started to run, but we couldn’t run that fast, because we still had our air packs on…And we got maybe a hundred, two hundred yards where Vesey Street meets West Street, and we heard this loud rumble that was behind us and above us…And it was the North Tower just starting to collapse. And, you know, it was just like all right, just, you know, run for our life. And we ran, not very far, ‘cause we realized that you weren’t going to outrun this, and we just dove under one of the fire trucks that were situated near Vesey…I went into a fetal position where I had to just cover my head, put my mask over my face, and cover my ears because it was just so loud.”
Click here for the full oral history, available on the New York Heritage digital portal. SENSITIVE CONTENT WARNING: This material contains graphic descriptions of injuries, deaths, and/or human remains.