CBN.com John Picarello, a firefighter for over 20 years, arrived at the World Trade Center on September 11th as part of Engine Company 278 and Battalion 40 of Brooklyn. He saw two massive buildings enveloped in smoke and flames. John was ordered to the 75th floor of the first target, the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
As he was receiving those orders, the South Tower was hit and began to crumble on top of him, along with other rescuers assembled in the lobby. His orders would never be completed as John found himself trapped in complete darkness but surrounded by a mountain of twisted steel, shattered debris, and fires.
John opened his eyes to total darkness.
“The sensation I had for a split second, it was extreme fear and then totally numb. It was like having your eyes closed, and then for a few minutes there was complete silence,” says John.
Time stood still as John scrambled over debris to get himself out of the path of danger. He managed to make his way to daylight, remarkably without a scratch.
“I remember thinking, this is not a dream you’ll wake up from. This is real. You’ve got to run.”
So John turned to run even though he was exhausted from the first collapse. John didn’t find out until later that he was 3 feet – a mere 36 inches – from the collapse zone.
“One minute I was with other rescue workers, some of them friends, and the next minute, they were gone,” says John.
As rescue and recovery began, fireman, police, and rescue workers would be forced to endure the nightmare of working and living inside Ground Zero. Minutes turned into hours, hours turned into hopelessness as the reality of what had happened sunk in. While working in Building 6 in the World Trade Center complex, workers discovered a cavernous type hole in the debris.
“Just the way the sun shone down and the way it looked,” says John, “It looked like an amphitheater with benches.”
Then in the midst of America’s darkest hours and in the midst of the enormous devastation, John says he believes hope was revealed. Four steel girder crosses laid upright in the middle of Building 6. All the workers in the immediate area, both believers and non-believers, stopped what they were doing and bowed their heads and prayed.
John says the message is clear: “When you find the cross, there’s power in the message that it brings.” The cavern became a place of worship for weary rescue workers. John believes it was as if God was saying, I am with you, I am here, come find peace. One of the crosses was erected as a permanent memorial to the World Trade Center at Ground Zero.
John says he suffered from severe post traumatic stress syndrome. In January 2002, several months after the attacks, John says he realized his own immortality and that was when his healing began.
“It hit me that only another 36 inches and I wouldn’t be here,” says John. Although he understood that healing was a process, John still says he wondered would he ever be normal again – would the nightmares ever stop? Fortunately for John, his nightmares began going away after six months.
After 9/11, John was asked to speak around the country, particularly in colleges, about his experiences.
“All the speaking helped,” he says. “Along with my faith.”
The Cross and the Towers is a documentary which was released in August as an exclusive church screening program through Outreach Cinema. The DVD can be ordered online from ShopCBN,
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