Friday, September 12, 2008


Seven years ago...

I looked out of the south-facing window of my office with a sick certainty. The smoke was obscuring most of the building at the height it showed over the rest of the Manhattan skyline, but occasionally it offered a glimpse of the tower's silver skin. Smoke was coming out of the two sides I could see.

Given that I knew that the fire was burning jet fuel, it seemed likely that the vast open plan floors of that tower were now a sea of flame, and I knew that the fire escapes and the elevators were in the middle of the building. The core was steel, like everything else, but fires that big can heat the air until it is unbreathable and the steel would by now be very hot. The central shaft-like core would likely be a windtunnel now too, fanning the flames like a blowlamp.

The smoke was very thick.

I know nothing about building design factors, rescue techniques or how fires move about in buildings, but I was once peripherally involved in a building fire and looking at this one, with no precise knowledge of what conditions were actually prevailing in WTC 1, I knew that before long Manhattan would be treated to another Shirtwaist moment.

I couldn't watch that unfold.

I retreated into the middle of our office, a city block in area with lots of places there were no windows and went quietly into shock. It was much later that I found out that yes, people had had to make that terrible descision. I wondered if the poor buggers had any consolation, any sense of relief at all. Probably not. Just several minutes of growing certainty that they could jump or they could burn. I've always known what my choice would be in those circimstances, but I don't kid myself that the experience would be in any way enjoyable. That's probably why I was so sure of what would happen as I looked out at the steel and the smoke. So much smoke.

What a time to be, for once, right.

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