Joseph Dunne, the First Deputy Police Commissioner at the time of the terrorist attacks, got to the World Trade Center as the second plane crashed into the South Tower. Dunne’s objective was to get to the Office of Emergency Management on Vesey Street. However, that building was being evacuated because of its proximity to the twin towers so Dunne went to the corner of Vesey and Church, one of the NYPD’s forward command posts, and helped run operations from there.
He joined Mayor Giuliani and Fire Commissioner Von Essen at 75 Barclay Street and was trapped with them by fallen debris and broken glass after the South Tower came down. When they eventually found a way out of the building, Dunne insisted on being last to leave as he didn’t want to delay others because of his lack of speed. (He was on crutches because of an Achilles tendon injury). Instead of going to City Hall with the Mayor and Police Commissioner, Dunne decided to stay at the WTC and help where he could. “I don’t want to sound like a hero, because I’m not — I just had this overwhelming need to stay there. I can’t even understand why I did not want to leave that spot.”
He escaped the collapse of the North Tower by seconds by getting into a passing bomb squad truck. By this time, he had decided that his place was back at police headquarters at 1 Police Plaza, where he spent the next 56 hours “making a thousand decisions — little decisions, big decisions — there was so much going on that we were just trying to move the ball along.”
Dunne says of the experience: “No one made a critical mistake, no one made an ingenious decision. We were just in the hands of God, or fate if you prefer, and those that got out of that place were fortunate and blessed and those that didn’t are with God now. There is no rhyme or reason why people made it and people didn’t.”
A more detailed account of Dunne’s and many others’ experience is found in Report from Ground Zero by Dennis Smith, an excerpt of which appears in this issue. ♦