"There were so many ways that we were lucky," says John Abruzzo, of his (and 10 colleagues') narrow escape from Tower 1 of the World Trade Center nearly two months ago. September 11th started as a normal day for John, who worked on the 69th floor as an associate accountant for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. When the first plane hit the tower that day, John, like others rushed to the stairwell. However, evacuation for John would prove to be much more difficult than many other World Trade Center occupants: John is a C 5-6 quadriplegic who relies on an electric wheelchair for mobility.
That day, many seemingly ordinary people did extraordinary things. Ten such people were at John's side. "There was no debate on whether I would be brought down or not by these people. It was more or less a collective decision," says Abruzzo. With the use of a special evacuation mobility device designed for the physically disabled, called the EVAC+CHAIR Emergency Wheelchair from New York City-based EVAC+Chair Corp., John was able to make an escape to safety. "It took us an hour-and-a-half to get down 69 floors." Although it is designed to be guided by one person, three to four people held the special evacuation chair while heading downstairs, rotating positions as necessary.
Conversely, in the February 1993 World Trade Center incident, John's evacuation took six hours - in which his electric chair was carried from the 69th floor to the 44th floor, where he was then transferred to a stretcher and finally exited the building. Shortly after the '93 bombing, a number of products and systems were purchased to aid in the evacuation and life-safety of World Trade Center occupants. The implementation of these products proved successful on September 11th: Lights stayed on while John and his friends evacuated, ventilation systems in the stairwells minimized smoke infiltration, and the evacuation chair(s) purchased by the Port Authority became a real life-saver.
John and his friends exited the tower and were out of harm's way for no more than 15 minutes before Tower 1 collapsed.
For information about the EVAC+CHAIR Emergency Wheelchair used by John Abruzzo on September 11th, visit the company website (www.evac-chair.com).