Chief Battalion Officer Tom Roby

The above fire helmet belongs to Chief Battalion Officer Tom Roby. The crosses were cut by ironworkers from steel beams from the World Trade Center Twin Towers.

At 8:45 a.m., on Sept. 11, 2001, Tom Roby, Chief Battalion Commander of the New York Fire Department’s 16th Battalion, was halfway through a 24-hour tour at the firehouse at 143rd Street in Harlem. He was in the kitchen fixing himself a cup of hot tea. On the TV a local news station was broadcasting from just outside the World Trade Center. The suddenly confused and panicked voices of the reporter snatched Roby’s attention from his tea. Almost 100 floors up, a plane had struck the North Tower of the Trade Center.

He switched on the department radio. It was erupting with activity. Accident? Attack? No one knew for sure. But Roby, a white-haired, 33-year veteran on the other side of 55-years-old, knew one thing for certain: it was going to be a long day.

A few minutes later, all doubts were cleared when a second commercial plane crashed into the World Trade Center, striking the South Tower. The Chief Battalion Commander turned his attention to the crew at his station, and told them to go to the grocery store and stock up on everything they would need for potentially weeks of not going home.

On July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber crashed into the Empire State Building. The accident, caused by dense fog, killed 14 people, including the two pilots and one passenger. The New York Fire Department issued what’s known as a ‘total recall,’ where every member of the fire department — off-duty or not — is summoned to their stations. 

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