Doran discusses 9/11 memories during Rotary Club meeting

September 12, 2018

Many people remember where they were and what they were doing when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened in 2001.

For Rick Doran, the memories are especially vivid, and he talked about them during a meeting of the Rotary Club of Aiken on Nov. 20 at Newberry Hall.

Doran has lived in Aiken for eight years, but back then he was a New York City firefighter.

“I was reading the newspaper when I got a call from one of the fellows in my company,” said Doran, who had the day off. “He asked me if I had the TV on. I told him no. He said, ‘Turn it on,’ and I saw that a plane had hit the North Tower (of the World Trade Center).”

Doran knew his help probably would be needed because he specialized in rescues.

“I responded and went to my firehouse,” he said. “By then, the South Tower had been hit (by another aircraft), but nothing had fallen yet.”

Doran and some other firefighters stopped a public transit bus in the borough of Queens, told everyone to get off and ordered the driver to take them to Lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center was located.

But when the bus reached the Midtown Tunnel, a tollbooth operator refused to let the vehicle continue its journey.

“The city is closed,” he said. “You can’t go through.”

But Doran refused to listen.

“I was basically the senior guy there, and I gave him two options,” Doran said. “Open the gate and let us through or don’t open the gate and get run over. And believe it or not, he probably went about 29 seconds before he decided to pull that gate open.”

While the delay made Doran angry, he believes it probably saved the lives of the firefighters on the bus. It kept them from arriving at Ground Zero before both of the World Trade Center’s towers collapsed.

“We ended up down by Stuyvesant High School, and we parked the bus there,” Doran said. “There was this debris cloud coming down the street, and that was when the second tower was coming down. We were probably still about 10 blocks away. It (the cloud) turned day into night.”

When Doran reached the scene of the disaster, he was surprised by what he encountered.

“The thing that amazed me was that as big as those buildings were, I never saw one piece of concrete or one piece of glass,” he said. “I never saw a telephone, a file cabinet or anything like that. There was nothing left but dust and papers flying around and steel.”

As a result of those airplane crashes and the tower collapses, more than 2,700 people died in and around the World Trade Center that day. They included 343 New York City firefighters.

For much of the next three months, “I personally was there,” Doran said. “We called it ‘The Pile.’ We wanted to bring home our brothers from our firehouses, the civilians who died.”

Doran received a standing ovation from the Rotary meeting attendees following his presentation, which included two videos.

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