Michael Fragin was driving on the Verrazano Bridge when the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It was a crystal clear day and the explosion was visible from the bridge,” he recently told Patch.
Instead of continuing onward, the Lawrence resident and Hatzalah member turned around once he got to the other side of the bridge. He said he felt “compelled” to go to the scene.
“I decided after quite a bit of indecision, I would start heading to lower Manhattan,” said Fragin, 38, who now serves as a Village of Lawrence trustee. “It seemed like it would be a mass casualty incident.”
More than 100 EMTs, paramedics and doctors from Hatzalah responded to the terrorism attacks of 9/11 in New York, according to the organization’s website. As of July 25 of this year, 2,753 people were killed as a result of the attacks in New York, 40 in Pennsylvania and 184 at the Pentagon.
Ten years after that tragic event, Fragin remembers the day pretty clearly.
“When the first tower fell, which was a huge thunderclap, it was unbelievable,” he said. “It didn’t seem possible, because if you’re on the ground level, the tower was so high above. ... It’s hard to think now, because they don’t exist, of how imposing and immense the Twin Towers were.”
During those chaotic moments, Fragin and other first responders were at risk of being caught in the avalanche of debris. So they ran for their lives.
“The dust cloud was incredible. The whole world went dark for a couple of minutes,” he said. “... You just kind of try to get your bearings for a couple of minutes.”
Fragin assisted a few people who suffered cuts and bruises, and also helped some evacuate to the ferry dock, where boats were taking people to New Jersey.
Then, the second tower fell.
“You knew it was the same sound and all the stuff would happen again,” he said. “There was a feeling at the time that the ground was unsafe.”
The husband and father then joined other responders at a triage center that was set up in Foley Square.
“We sat around for what seemed like forever just waiting for patients that never came,” he said. “It was almost a binary decision — either you lived or died. You don’t hear about a lot of people being gravely wounded in the attack.
Fragin then went with other responders just north of Ground Zero, where he remembers hearing the alarms worn by firefighters continually going off. The alarm was to warn others that that person had stopped moving.
“It was surreal. The whole thing was like being on a different planet,” he said. “This destruction and smoke, incredible, it was all lit up by portable lights by the evening.”
Fragin said he stood by firefighters and people mourning people that were killed. A little after 1 a.m., he went back home. There were no victories that day, he said.
After giving a ride to a firefighter to Staten Island, Fragin found himself in the same spot he was in that morning.
“I remember looking at the glow of the site as I was coming back across again,” he said. “I had been on the Verrazano that morning, maybe 16, 17 hours earlier, a lot had changed. It was surreal. The entire thing was surreal.”
The attacks inspired Fragin to do more public service and “try to give as much time as possible” to “make the world more livable,” he said.
Fragin said he plans to spend the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with his kids — his oldest was five years old in 2001. He hasn’t full discussed the day with them, and said he feels it will be hard for them to grasp what life was like before that day.
“Everything we do is different," Fragin said. "The whole world has changed.”