From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Twin Saving at the Twin Towers

We are like one-winged angels. It’s only when we help each other that we can fly.

Luciano de Crescenzo

Through the vivid blue eyes of middle-aged Kenneth Summers came one of the most inspirational stories of a citizen saved by an instantly heroic volunteer after the September 11 terrorist attack in New York.

Summers was one of the few people who were seriously injured and lived to see another day, only because someone stepped forward in sacrifice.

An early bird, Summers arrived at his desk on the twenty-seventh floor of the North Tower at his usual time around 7:15 A.M. After clearing up his busywork, he took the elevator down to the soaring glass lobby of the World Trade Center to mail some personal bills that were perilously close to being late. What a perfect day, he thought. Crystal clear sky, cool air. The kind of day you feel happy to be alive.

“I wasn’t outside for more than ten seconds when I thought I heard something like a massive train rushing past. Then boom! I looked to the right and saw someone I knew from upstairs racing for cover,” he recalled. “I don’t even know if I took the time to look up.”

To take cover for himself, he rushed back to the revolving door leading into the North Tower. Inside that swirling door, Summers immediately noticed the space around him filling up with orange-yellowish colored fumes. “A second later, all hell broke loose,” he continued. Shards of glass were flying everywhere as the force of an explosion lifted him up and out onto the street.

“I was on my back and on fire. I frantically looked to see if I had fingers or toes. I was lying next to the big planters outside and I kept saying to myself, I’m okay. I’m okay. Then I realized I was bleeding from my hands to my head, and I was covered with burns.”

He beat his clothes and his hair with his hands to extinguish the flames that engulfed him. Once he put the fire out, he staggered across the street, looked up and saw the black smoke billowing from the top floors of the Tower. Was it another bomb, like in 1993? he thought. Or maybe a plane had hit one of the towers. People on the sidewalk around him seemed frozen. Summers pleaded with strangers to help him, but understandably everyone seemed too stunned to respond.

A split second later, there was a whoosh over his head, and he heard a second explosion. Suddenly the South Tower was ablaze. Fiery debris rained down, and Summers began to run. His skin was smoking and smoldering, peeling off in sheets. He was charred black and going into shock.

That’s when a stranger with a kind face started calming Summers. “I want to help you. My name is Stephen Newman. I want to be your guide,” he offered.

A thirty-six-year-old banker for Merrill Lynch, Newman had taken a car service to work from his home on the Upper East Side. When the first plane hit, he was stopped in traffic two blocks south of the World Trade Center. After he got out of the cab, he headed for the Twin Towers. “I was racing to reach my office to make sure everybody knew what was happening,” he said. Just as he saw the singed Summers, the second plane hit the South Tower.

While he wasn’t sure what motivated him, Newman knew Summers needed medical attention fast. “We have to get across the river,” he said to the badly injured man who was getting weaker by the moment.

Staggering, Summers slumped more and more with every step. But Newman’s calm persistence pushed him on. They finally made it to the pier near Wall Street where thousands of usually steely New Yorkers were quite animated as they pushed to board boats for New Jersey. Although Newman had only been across the Hudson River a couple times in his life, he wasn’t about to abandon the needy stranger he had taken under his wing.

The hobbling man and his newfound guide were the last two people to board the ferry leaving for Jersey City. As the ferry pulled away, the South Tower collapsed. “It was like a volcano,” Newman remembered. “An avalanche that was weaving its way all over the World Financial Center.”

Since the captain of the ferry had called ahead to have medical help waiting for the critically injured Summers, rescue workers took him immediately to the burn unit at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey.

Summers was one of the few lucky ones. He lived. Had Newman not stopped amidst all the panic that surrounded them, Summers is certain he would have perished.

“If he hadn’t led me, directed me and pushed me, I was so woozy I would have probably sat down and lost consciousness. Who knows what would have happened?

“Steve saved my life,” Summers said. Yet, in a startling revelation, Newman made the same declaration to him.

“You probably saved my life, too,” he replied. “If I hadn’t helped you, we both might have been there when the buildings fell.” Through the sacrifice of one, two lives were saved. It was volunteering of the tallest order.

Robin Gaby Fisher

©Tribune Media Services, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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