Sarasota Panel Recounts "Chills" of 9/11

Sarasota panel
Panel members at USF Sarasota-Manatee
Responding to the Crisis
Remembering those who served that day
SARASOTA (2011-9-8) -

A New York City firefighter, an office worker in the World Trade Center, a reporter in Sarasota. Their lives all intersected on 9/11. They recounted their experiences about that day 10 years ago before a packed audience last night at Selby Auditorium on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.

Garrett Lindgren was a New York City firefighter who just got off his shift a half hour before the first plane struck the World Trade Center. He rushed back to his unit and was blocks away from the burning buildings, when he saw something he'll never forget...

"And as we approached the site – and as I talk about it, I still get chills when I think about this – when you picture the old Godzilla movies, and they would try to show panic – they would just show massive numbers of people with their hands over their heads, screaming," Lindgren says. "Well, that’s what we saw heading north on the FDR Drive. It was a sea of humanity. It was thousands of people running for their lives, screaming."

Lindgren was a seasoned veteran, working in tough fire districts in the Bronx and Harlem. But nothing prepared him for what he was witnessing.

"I work with great guys, we know what we’re doing, we’re going to be OK. It’s dangerous, you get hurt, but we’re going to be OK," he says. "I called my wife and told her to be sure where all our stuff was, get the kids out of school, and tell them I love them. And basically, I said goodbye. I said a lot of us were going to die there today. And I truly believed that everybody and myself were going to be dead in a little while."

His fire engine was blocks away from the burning towers when the first building collapsed. They were blinded by a cloud of dust, and couldn't go any further. Lindgren says that was the only thing that separated his life from the 343 other firefighters who never got to go home again.

Dan Hoffe was on the 61st floor of Tower Two, when he heard the first plane crash. He looked out his window to see the tower’s twin burning ferociously.

"You heard an explosion, and it actually cracked windows all the way down to where we were," says Hoffe. :And I tell you, when that happens, and you’re in a high-rise building, 110 floors, and your up in the 61st floor, time kind of slows down and you’re trying to figure what’s going on, and I remember looking up in the sky and seeing all these documents pouring out of the sky. I looked like a ticker-tape parade."

He remembers looking down, and seeing burning debris falling beneath his floor. Hoffe made it down one of the stairwells and was on the 10th floor when the second plane smashed into his building. He escaped through the center’s underground concourse, and was walking uptown when the first tower collapsed.

"Imagine New York City where there were no cars, no buses, no subways, you could only walk," he says. "And as you’re walking away, eventually there was an F-16 circling the city to protect us."

Of course, not all the action that day was in New York and Washington, D.C. President Bush gave his famous speech that the nation was under attack at a Sarasota Elementary School. Jackie Barron, who was then a reporter for WFLA Channel 8, was there.

Her first inkling something was wrong was when her mother called her cell phone, and told her what her was unfolding on television.

"It was really surreal," says Barron, "I think that was the word we were searching for. Even to this day as I discuss it, it almost seems like an out-of-body experience."

Then, she described a “stunned, shocked silence” as President Bush spoke before the media.

"His words were short and brief," says Barron. "It wasn’t so much what he said, but the look upon his face that stays with me – equal parts anguish, and anger and fear on the face of our leader."

The president quickly left, but Barron says she spent the next several months mostly working on stories about 9/11.

The panel members say they're eager to keep telling their 9/11 stories. Hoffe says there are still lessons to be learned from that day.

"I want to make sure we never forget the bravery of the firefighters," says Hoffe. "And that we never forget all the good people who passed away that day. Because I had this feeling that once you forget something, that’s when something can happen again."

Given all the media attention surrounding the tenth anniversary, it's impossible to forget about 9/11 this week. But Hoffe says he’s worried about the public’s mindset once the anniversary also passes into history.

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