1st fire chief on the scene on 9/11 remembers the fallen heroes, including his brother

Jim Dolan Image
Friday, September 8, 2023
1st fire chief on the scene on 9/11 remembers the fallen heroes
The first fire chief on the scene during the 9/11 terror attack remembers the fallen heroes, including his brother. Jim Dolan has more.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Joe Pfeifer's last memory of his brother is ordering him into one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

Pfeifer was the first fire chief on the scene when the twin towns were attacked, so he did what any firefighter would do-- he responded.

"My brother came up to me without a word, and we looked at each other wondering if we'd both be ok, and then I ordered him as I ordered many of my other fire officers to take their unit and go upstairs to evacuate the building," Pfeifer said.

After a 37-year career with the FDNY, Pfeifer retired, but only for a moment.

In his brief time off, he taught at Harvard and Columbia. Recently, he returned to the FDNY to become first deputy commissioner.

The memory of his brother, of 9/11 stays with him.

"We heard this loud noise of a plane, and as you know, you don't hear planes in Manhattan because of the tall buildings and then we saw this plane flying at a very low altitude, extremely fast, but so low that I could read under the fuselage the word "American," and then I saw that plane aim and crash into the north tower of the World Trade Center."

When One World Trade was built, Pfeifer was asked to write something on the beam used to top the building off. He wanted to get it right.

"Always remember the heroes who did ordinary things, but at an extraordinary time so that others may live," he wrote.

ALSO READ | FDNY to add 43 names to 9/11 memorial wall, 2nd largest addition since inception


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