This article is part of the Arthritis Archives.
Dateline: October 7, 2001
Disabled Helped To Safety
Depending on your perspective, wheelchairs can be viewed as either confining or liberating. Wheelchair users, dependent on the mobility aid to compensate for their disability, gain independence through their use. Confining, yet liberating. Dependent, yet independent. The irony is apparent.
While wheelchairs allow their users the freedom to pursue job opportunities, join the workforce, and fit back into the mainstream, the aspect of confinement became very real and evident during the emergency at the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York on September 11, 2001.
- Amidst the confusion and horror of a terrorist attack, how does a disabled person in a wheelchair evacuate a 110-story tower?
- Is there anything disabled persons can do to help themselves?
- Is it best to remain calm and await the arrival of qualified emergency personnel?
It takes a unique kind of courage to be a disabled person who must be dependent on someone else for survival. It also takes a unique kind of courage to be one of the silent heroes who views someone else's survival as important as their own.
Co-Worker Helped By Evacuation ChairStories of people helping each other have been emerging since day one of the WTC attack. Each story is spectacular in its own way, punctuated by the efforts of silent heroes. Mike Curci, 40, worked on the 69th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center as an accounting supervisor in the controller's department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Curci was sitting at his desk on the south side of Tower One as the first hijacked plane hit the north side. A loud noise followed by the shaking of the tower stirred Curci and his co-workers to head toward a stairway for evacuation. Curci stopped though to help a wheelchair-bound co-worker from his wheelchair into an evacuation chair.
Evacuation chairs are specially designed chairs to help get disabled people down the stairs in the event of an emergency. According to the Home News Tribune, the special evacuation chairs were placed in the WTC after the bombing in 1993. It took about an hour and a half to get down 69 floors as Curci and fellow co-workers helped guide and carry the special evacuation chair down to the lobby. By the time they made it outside, Tower Two had collapsed. They continued walking 6 more blocks to shelter, still carrying their disabled co-worker.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferer Helped By Evacuation Chair
In another similar story, on the 81st floor of Tower One, employees at the New York branch of Network Plus, a Boston-based telecommunications firm, were set to start their day as that first hijacked plane hit their building, four floors above them but on the other side. Branch manager Michael Benfante, 36, ordered everyone to evacuate, and along with sales representative John Cerqueira, 22, he began to make his way out. Not fully realizing what exactly had happened, it was obvious they had to get out.
On the 68th floor, Benfante and Cerqueira encountered a woman in a wheelchair. The woman, a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer, had also been in the building during the WTC bombing in 1993. The two men helped the woman out of her wheelchair and into the special evacuation chair. It was an hour-long descent to safety. Once outside, Benfante and Cerqueira placed the woman in an emergency van.
Related Resources - Assistive Devices
Sources: Some surprised to find themselves heroes Two men help a disabled woman escape inferno, by Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY, 9/12/2001; September 11, 2001: A Day to Remember
by Josie Byzek and Tim Gilmer, New Mobility, 11/2001
First published: 10/07/2001