(WTNH) – In the hours and days following the September 11 attacks, hundreds of first responders rushed to Ground Zero to search for victims and help those who made it out of the towers alive.
Among those heroes, New York City Firefighter Regina Wilson was one of the few African American women on the force at the time.
News 8’s Keith Kountz talked to her about that fateful day and a phone call that may have saved her life.
Wilson remembers vividly the morning of September 11, 2001, on a firetruck, rushing through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel from Brooklyn to lower Manhattan.
“When we were going through the tunnel, there was this massive wind that came through the tunnel. It shook the engine so violently that we had to stop because we didn’t know what was going on,” Wilson said.
A relatively newcomer to the NYFD at the time, she quickly realized that the day ahead would be unlike any, even the most hardened veterans of the force had ever experience.
There was destruction everywhere Wilson looked.
“We saw cars on fire, we had buildings on fire, we had all these different elements we had to deal with. We had tried to go to the hydrants and there was no water pressure coming out of the hydrants,” Wilson said.
Wilson told News 8 that she returned to Ground Zero to help out with recovery efforts and search for the remains of victims every day for months after the attacks, even on her day off.
In a twist of fate, Wilson switched schedules with a colleague on the morning of Sept. 11. The request came from her friend and mentor John Chipura.
He arrived at Ground Zero on one of the first trucks called out and died trying to save people when the first tower collapsed.
“I try to treat everyday life as a gift. I try to make sure I respect every day given to me to honor and respect John’s memory to do something productive with my life, help others. I feel it would otherwise discredit a mean who tried to help me,” Wilson said.
When Wilson became a New York City Firefighter, she was the first African American woman to join the ranks in 15 years, enduring a rigorous training academy to land the job.
“I spent a lot of time crying in my bathroom trying to figure out if this is something that I wanted to do and I needed to push through it because I understand the importance and significance of becoming a member of the Fire Department of New York,” Wilson said.
Two decades after the terrorist attack, Wilson continues to be passionate about being a firefighter and serving her city. One of New York City’s bravest and a hero of 9/11.