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WTC Profiles

Personal stories of people involved with the WTC disaster

By Ray Bernard

Select a profile:

John Fisher, Engineering Consultant
Leslie Robertson, Structural Engineer
John Labriola, Computer Consultant
Minoru Yamasaki, Chief Architect

John Fisher, Engineering Consultant

John Fisher was an engineering consultant on security and environmental systems projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where he worked for more than five years.

He was responsible for quality assurance for the security and life-safety systems in the Twin Towers. To gain access for periodic testing of the emergency systems, he was one of the few people with a security pass that allowed entrance into the emergency Operations Control Center (OCC), located in the first basement level of Tower Two. Before September 11, routine periodic testing was the only reason he needed access to the emergency center.

His desk was on the 71st floor of Tower One, but at the time of the attack Fisher was a passenger in a Port Authority car being driven by a colleague, Ed Bonny. They were starting a trip to a Port Authority facility in Staten Island, and were on level B1 of underground parking when the first plane struck Tower One. The sky was raining debris as they drove out the exit ramp. Bonny tried to get out of the car to see what was happening, but he recalls Fisher pulling him back. "Don't get out now," he said. "The shrapnel's going to hit you." They waited for the debris to stop falling, and then got out to look at the building.

Bonny recalls their conversation:

"We've got to go back in," Fisher told him.

"Why? Why do we have to go back in?"

"Because the OCC is my project," said Fisher.

"The terrorists won. They blew up the building. We need to set up an alternate command center in Jersey City."

"No it's my project, I need to go back in."

"Okay," said Bonny. "Stay in the car, and I'll drive you around to the VIP driveway."

Once they made it to the driveway, Fisher grabbed his leather portfolio and ran into Tower One.

He was last seen a few minutes before the collapse of Tower Two, working with two others using radios,telephones, intercoms and the World Trade Center CCTV system, assisting with the evacuation efforts. That day he joined the ranks of the unsung heroes of his profession, those who sacrificed their own lives to save others.

John Fisher was a good friend of mine. He had seven children, ages 6 through 16.

Leslie Robertson, Structural Engineer

Leslie Robertson, who directed the structural design of the World Trade Center, was shaken by the event but heartened by the staying power of the buildings. "We are all devastated," he said to GECC the week following the attack. He had worked as a WTC structural engineer for nearly 40 years. Suddenly, they were gone. Suddenly, so many were dead. "Such a thing is beyond imagination.If the buildings had fallen immediately, the casualties would have been extremely high. We're thankful they held up as long as they did."

And considering what the Twin Towers had to withstand, Robertson told Newsweek: "The World Trade Center has performed admirably, and everyone involved in the project should be proud."

John Labriola, Computer Consultant

John Labriola, a computer consultant with the Port Authority, was on floor 71 of Tower One on September 11, when the airplane struck the building. During the evacuation John took the photos that you see above.

"I was amazed that the stairwells remained lighted," he says. "That was a critical factor in getting us out safely, and in keeping the stairwells usable for emergency personnel. When I think about how long the building stayed up, and all the engineering that went into it, I'm thankful for every person who did his or her job. If someone hadn't done a job right, I might not be here today."

Minoru Yamasaki, Chief Architect

Minoru Yamasaki, who died in 1986 at the age of 73 at the height of his creativity, was the chief architect of the World Trade Center. During the WTC's dedication ceremony, Yamasaki commented on his vision of the World Trade Center: "I feel this way about it. World trade means world peace and consequently the World Trade Center buildings in New York . . . have a bigger purpose than just to provide room for tenants. The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man's dedication to world peace. . . . beyond the compelling need to make this a monument to world peace, the World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, his ability to find greatness."

Ray Bernard is a free-lance writer and the principal consultantof Ray Bernard Consulting Services. His system designs are in use throughout the world, in facilities such as nuclear missile disarmament sites, U.S. International airports and high-security information centers.

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