9/11 will always be remembered as a day of national tragedy. Is it possible for a miracle to have taken place in the midst of this unforgettable disaster? Indre and Randall travel to New York to interview Josephine Harris and the firefighters who saved her life to find out.
Were six firefighters saved by an angel of mercy?
As chaos reigned in lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001, six firefighters from Ladder Company 6 of the New York Fire Department were on their way down Stairway B of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The South Tower, struck shortly after the North Tower, had just collapsed. The firefighters were rushing to save their own lives when they stopped to help Josephine Harris, a woman who became tired after walking down the stairway from her office on the 74th floor.
"...right around the 20th floor we saw a woman standing in, in the stairway...she was just standing there. She was crying. We stopped and one of my firemen, Tommy Falco, turned around and looked at me and he says, "hey Cap, what do you wanna do with her?" I looked at her and I says, "well, we can't leave her." Says John Jonas, Battalion Chief FDNY, former Captain of Ladder Co. 6.
Josephine says that at that moment, she felt she could go on no longer. Her legs had stopped working. With the building collapse imminent, the firefighters used precious minutes to help her. As they carried Josephine down the stairway from the 20th floor, the North Tower began to collapse around them.
When the dust settled, all six firefighters and Josephine Harris found themselves alive in the rubble. "Oh yeah. I got six beautiful bad firefighters for brothers," says Josephine. "Somebody was with us that day. Somebody was watching over."
The firefighters in Ladder Co 6 agree that if they hadn't stop to help Josephine, they would have all been crushed in the lobby of the building when it collapsed. Some call Josephine Harris a divine angel who intervened to save the firefighters.
"One thing that people have mentioned to me," says John Jonas, "they say 'well, well, God was with you that day.' And I kind of cringe when they say that, you know, I said, 'by you saying that you're saying God was not with the other guys.' All I can really say is that we had one small little victory that day - we went in with six people. We came out with seven."
Structural engineer Steven S. Ross looks at the structure of the North Tower and finds that Stairway B, the supposed miracle stairway, actually contains extra reinforcement that would help protect it from damage in a collapse.
"Remember this area here was really the, the sanctuary particularly right about in the middle of it. That's where Stairway B was. And so what happened is the plane hit here on the 94th floor. There were about ten floors above it. Once the steel gets above 600 degrees or so it loses most of its structural strength. As the floors collapsed on one another and pancaked on top of one another on the way down, by the time it got down to the lower floors you had the weight of 75 floors of building pressing on this area but fortunately the debris field by then had spread wider and so it scattered outward," says Ross.
He also finds that due to the way the floors pancaked as the building collapsed, the stairway could remain standing as the floors fell around it. Ross identifies a survival zone from approximately floor 6 to floor twenty of Stairway B. This is the only such zone in the entire building.
Randall visits biblical scholar Rabbi Irwin Kula to find out about God's intervention in human affairs. Rabbi Kula feels a miraculous presence in the heroism of the firefighters, who made a moral choice to do their duty to help someone in the face of almost certain death.
"The fact that it's hard for the firefighters who got saved to believe that their choice made all the difference indicates how moral they actually are. Because they know we make the best choices, the most moral choices, the most heroic choices we can make not because we're gonna be rewarded or punished but we do it because it's the right thing to do and the reward, whether in life or death, the reward is having done the right thing," says Kula.
Rabbi Kula takes solace in these kinds of actions as an antidote to those who say God abandoned the 9/11 victims to their fates.
Indre and Randall meet at Ground Zero to discuss their conclusions.
Randall: That day was so devastating and so infuriating and yet I feel on some deep level there were many miracles that day. And that there have been miracles since that day as a result of what happened.
Indre: After 9/11 people came out of the woodwork and helped each other in a way that I don't think we've really seen in America. I really still keep coming back to the idea that what I remember from 9/11 is yes, the pictures of the planes going into the building and the devastation but more than that. There's just so many stories of really altruistic behavior.
Randall: And, you know, those, those guys who gave up their lives were the, were the ones who really brought that forth from people. The decision that the firefighters in Stairway B made to do the right thing and the moral thing and to, to stay with Josephine and to stay together, that saved their lives and yet all over that building other firefighters were making the same decision just as brave and they died. There has to be a way to embrace the miracle of what happened in Stairway B without diminishing the magnitude of what the other people did and what, what happened to them.
Indre: I think that that's something that we're not gonna be able to sort out. It never sat well with me to think that those people did something and therefore they were saved. It doesn't even sit well for me to think they were chosen for some reason. I can't swallow that.
Randall: But the fact of the matter is if they hadn't done what they did they wouldn't have lived. So, I, you know, I, I, I do, I disagree. I think there is a way to understand and to see this, that, that will fully validate the miracle. I know there has to be a way.