With the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaching, the hosted “Remembering 9/11” last Saturday.
Dr. Benjamin Luft of the Long Island WTC Medical Monitoring and Treatment Center at Stony Brook University Medical Center invited two first responders, Robert Weisberg and Rafael Orozoco, to answer questions and tell stories of what they encountered on Sept. 11.
The two are a part of the center’s WTC Responder Oral History Project.
“We began our program right after 9/11,” Luft said. “Some of us [doctors] visited the ground zero site and we saw the nature of the disaster and what the responders were being exposed to."
Robert Weisberg of the Commack Volunteer Fire Department was in the subway across from the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He was on his way to his job as a controller for a software development company.
“I think for my generation, this is our Pearl Harbor,” said Weisberg, who has been a fireman for the past 17 years.
He remembers the shockwave that came down the stairs of the subway station as the first plane hit had actually knocked people down, while he stood on the platform.
“The sound was incredible — even underground it was extremely loud,” he said.
Initially thinking it was a car bomb, Weisberg said his firefighter tactics set in and he knew he had to get to the street. After dropping his belongings at work, he ran to the firehouse on Liberty Street. The fire crew was out at a gas leak and only the captain of the truck company remained. Weisberg identified himself with his badge and was put in charge of triage.
Detective Rafael Orozoco, who retired eight years ago from the NYPD, took his son down to the South Street Seaport on September 10, 2001, which was right near the Twin Towers. His son suggested going to the observation deck, but “dark, and angry clouds” which surrounded the buildings made Orozoco request to do it another time.
“I was actually supposed to work the 4 p.m. to 12 p.m. tour on 9/11,” said Orozoco. “But the night before everyone was reassigned and I had to be in at 7:30 a.m."
Frustrated that he had to wake up early and not have time to service the vending machines for his side business, some of which he had stationed in the WTC, he went to work in Brooklyn. He first took his work van to the assigned car wash.
“While I was at the carwash, the car got stuck in the carwash — I don’t know why it did, but it did. As that occurred, I turned around and saw the first plane strike,” he said.
He turned to his partner and said that with a big plane like that it could only be one thing — terrorism.
“It was so surreal,” Orozoco said. “Because it was almost as if the plane was moving in slow motion.”
Weisberg, unlike Orozoco, suffered from nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Orozoco said he made himself forget most of what he saw that day.
RELATED: about the documentary 9/11: An American Requiem, which was made by the WTCMMTP and features the two interviews along with others. It debuted at the 16th annual Stony Brook Film Festival and an abridged version will be shown on PBS on Sept. 11.