To any of Mr. Carroll's family members who may read this, this story is based on information I was able to gather from September 11th information on the internet. While I included as many confirmed facts as I could, I used dramatic license based on publicly available information and your published descriptions of Mr. Carroll to fill in any gaps. I hope you believe I did Mr. Carroll justice. It's what a hero deserves. -B.A.
Pete Carroll was at the firehouse for Squad 1 at Brooklyn's Park Slope on a temperate, clear September 11th when the alarm bell rang. Pete was always the joker, keeping the other guys laughing with his jokes and impressions and, before the alarm went off, today was no different. Pete had just finished one of his signature stories and the guys thought this story, like so many of his others, was just hilarious.
But when the alarm went off, everything changed.
Pete became a different person when the fire alarm bell rang. The humor melted away like ice in an inferno.
"Okay boys, time to get to work," Pete said matter of factly.
When the fire bell rang, the firehouse, much like Pete, changed. The usually relaxed atmosphere transformed into an organized chaos. While anyone not familiar with the rush of firemen to their station may not be able to make sense of the static activity, to the trained observer it was a symphony, a symphony of sights and sounds of everyday heroism.
Pete not only took his part in the symphony, but seemed to lead it, as one of the first to grab and equip his gear and make his way to the fire engine.
And while Pete was all business, he was concerned. It was just before nine o'clock and Pete hadn't called his wife, ToniAnn, yet this morning.
Pete called ToniAnn almost every morning, often just to tell her that he loved her. Pete and ToniAnn were recently married, but had their own Brady Bunch. Between them, they had six children from previous marriages. Pete had four: Nicole, Michael, Peter, and Christopher. And ToniAnn had two: Anthony and Dana. And ToniAnn's children loved Pete like a father.
Pete and ToniAnn had spent much of the past ten months together, because Pete simply couldn't bear to leave ToniAnn's side. ToniAnn had been diagnosed with a rare nerve disorder, fybromyalgia, and with her chronic fatigue syndrome, at times, she was simply too weak to move.
Pete wouldn't have it. He would pick ToniAnn up and carry her from room to room, anywhere she wanted to go. Pete would carry her to the ends of the Earth if she wanted him to, but she never asked for that. Being together was all they both needed.
And when ToniAnn was hungry, Pete happily cooked her favorite steak dinner to help her gain back the weight she had lost to her illness. And when ToniAnn cried because she couldn't bear the pain, Pete cried along with her.
As hard that it was for ToniAnn and Pete, it was easier for them to deal with because they had each other. So that was why Pete always called ToniAnn, just to make sure she knew how important having her was to him.
But, as concerned as he was, Pete couldn't call ToniAnn right now. He had work to do.
"Come on boys, let's go!," Pete encouraged as his slower, but still rushing brothers in arms made their way to the engine.
And in a blink of an eye, the red lights were flashing, the siren was blaring, and Squad 1 was on their way.
Their destination: The World Trade Center.
"Oh my goodness," Pete said aloud, unaware that he had said anything at all. Pete's head was tilted back in a way he had witnessed many tourists look at the city. His eyes were transfixed on the tallest buildings in southern Manhatten, the Twin Towers. For the first time he had could remember they were smoking. They were both smoking. Spouting smoke like giant Roman candles, as if they were part of some perverse fireworks show.
Again, to himself but unknowingly aloud, Pete said, "We've got to save those people."
As Squad 1's engine approached the foot of the complex, a mass of people watching this surreal scene parted for the engine to park. And as the engine approached, it joined a chorus of police and fire sirens and a lightshow of red and blue lights.
As Pete stepped off the engine, he felt something light hit is face. Then he felt it again. And again.
Pete looked up and saw snowflakes raining down under the perfectly blue sky. A perfectly blue sky except for the smoke coming from the towers.
How could it be snowing?
Then Pete realized, it wasn't snow at all. It was paper. Flakes of paper. Flakes of paper snowing down from the towers and flicking him in the face as they made their way to the ground.
Pete ran. With seventy pounds of gear, Pete ran like people's lives depended on it. Because he knew they did.
Pete ran right into the South Tower lobby.
Once he was in the lobby, Pete ran to the stairwell, and there he began helping people down the stairs.
And there he stayed.
"You gotta get out," his radio crakled.
But he ignored it. There were too many people. Too many people who needed help. A scared woman. An older man who needed assistance.
Pete was there. Helping them. Helping them all. One after the next. Ignoring any warnings from his radio, as time faded into nothingness, Pete helped anyone and everyone he could.
As he was helping an old woman down the stairs, Pete heard a rumbling. At first he thought it was an earthquake, but then he realized it wasn't coming from the ground. It was coming from above.
And it was coming quickly.
And Pete thought to himself, I hope the kids know how proud I am of them and ToniAnn and the kids know just how much I love them.
As most of us stopped, to see the fire in the sky,
you were in the trucks, passing us by.
As the unthinkable horror, makes us shed a tear,
you entered the building, in your rescue gear.
As we sat in panic, praying for no more
you were climbing stairs, floor by floor.
We sat confused, awed, and in strife
you were looking, hoping, and praying for life.
As the building came down, we feared you would too.
But God gave you wings, and instead you flew.