Students chat with 9/11 paramedic via Skype

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
KANNAPOLIS — Listening to John Delaney describe being buried beneath at least 8 feet of rubble the day hijackers crashed planes into the Twin Towers and still managing to direct others to safety elevated the him from paramedic to super hero in the eyes of 9-year-old Lilly Beaver.
“He was pretty much a hero because he helped save people,” she said.
Lilly was one of about 55 fourth-graders at Shady Brook Elementary who had the opportunity to talk with Delaney via the video-conferencing service Skype on Wednesday.
The chat session was arranged by Delaney’s niece, Melissa Little, a fourth-grade teacher at the school.
As the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks approach, Little wanted to provide her students with a sense of awareness about Sept. 11, 2001.
“I’m just thrilled that my uncle agreed to do this,” she said. “It was something that has consumed our family.”
Little had just moved to North Carolina about two months before 9/11.
“I remember watching TV that day and thinking I was never going to see my uncle again,” she said. “And my brother was supposed to be in the Twin Towers that day for a job interview, but they called him the night before and said they gave the job to someone else.”
The students prepared for the Skype session with background lessons provided by their teachers and watching videos.
“I don’t think they understood the enormity of it until they saw the actual footage,” Little said.
The students brainstormed about 100 questions to asked Delaney, the retired director of paramedic services for New York Presbyterian Hospital, before finally meeting face-to-face Wednesday.
“They wanted to know if he knew anybody who died, that was a huge one,” Little said. “After they saw the pictures, they had a lot of questions about the debris.”
Delaney answered both questions without hesitation.
“I actually lost 56 friends that day who were cops, firefighters and EMS personnel,” he said. “Four of those were my own employees.”
Delaney said there was between 8 and 12 feet of debris piled up at the spot now known as Ground Zero.
Fourth-grader Ryan Cuthbertson said he was shocked to find out there was that much debris.
“I learned a lot,” he said.
Here are other questions posed by students:
What were you doing when the towers fell?
Delaney: “I had 23 staff members with me. We were actually walking into Tower 2 when a police officer standing outside the tower said, ‘Run for you life, it’s coming down.’ As the first tower was coming down we were all running away from the tower.”
What kinds of sounds did you hear as the towers were coming down?
Delaney: “There was a tremendous rolling, the entire ground under out feet shook, almost like we are were having an earthquake then there was a loud roar.”
Were you shocked that the towers fell?
Delaney: “Absolutely. It caught us all off guard. We all felt those towers were very, very secure and nothing would be able to take them down.”
What were people doing as the towers fell?
Delaney: “There were people running in every direction because there were very, very large pieces on concrete and steel, so everybody was virtually running for their lives. You’ve got to remember this, it only took 8 seconds for the towers to come down. That didn’t give people much time to run, but people tried to run as fast as they could to avoid debris.”
Were you able to help anyone get out of the building?
Delaney: “Yes. We were able to help people who were coming out of the buildings. We were able to direct them and get them into ambulances. There were actually thousands and thousands of people who got out of the buildings successfully.”
He said more people likely would have perished on 9/11 had the World Trade Center not been bombed in 1993 because that incident spurred a spike in emergency practices, such as fire drills.
Did you go back after 9/11?
Delaney: “I was down there the first eight weeks after the 11th trying to rescue as many people as we possibly could. We were hoping that we would still find people that were alive in the rubble.”
Have you been back since the recovery and rescue?
Delaney: “Yes, I actually have. I took my children there probably two years after 9/11 and I have gone there a couple of years for the service on the anniversary days.”
He also went back to Ground Zero with his son and former co-workers the night President Barack Obama announced Osama bin Laden had been killed.
How much security is there now?
Delaney: “A lot of people get very annoyed with it. Just keep in mind, yes, it may be annoying and you may have to go to the airport a couple hours earlier to catch your flight, but it is totally for your personal safety. Unfortunately, nowadays terrorism is something that is real. We are fortunate that we have the capabilities of screening people, so be patient when you travel.”
He also encouraged students to be vigilant and alert adults if they notice something seems unusual.
Little said she hopes the students can tell friends and families about their chat with Delaney.
“It’s just so powerful, I’m glad they were able to have this experience,” she said.
The students will be writing letters to send to the 9/11 first-responders today and Friday.
“Now that they’ve had all this background, I think their letters will be not only be more knowledge, but also more genuine,” Little said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.