Former Pound Ridge resident recounts experience as firefighter responding to ground zero on 9/11

Russell would go on to spend six months at ground zero.

News 12 Staff

Sep 9, 2021, 3:15 AM

Updated 1,046 days ago

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A former Pound Ridge resident recounted to News 12 his experience in lower Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Growing up, Dave Russell's father was the fire chief in Fairfield, Connecticut. So the fire headquarters is where his dream to become a firefighter began.
"At 2 o'clock in the morning, when the phone rang and my father was going to a fire, he kicked my feet and you had exactly 3.2 seconds to get in the car or you missed it," Russell recalled.
It was St. Patrick's Day in Manhattan in 1965 that Russell wanted that dream to come true more than ever.
"The New York City firemen had just pulled someone out and he was burnt pretty bad. And I remember those guys taking care of the civilian like he was their own," Russell said. "And that's when I determined I wanted to be one of them."
When Russell was 27, he achieved that dream. He'd been serving as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force when the Fire Department of the City of New York hired him.
Fast forward a decade, Russell was now a lieutenant at 62 Engine in the Bronx. He lived with his wife and son in Pound Ridge, New York at the time and spent his days off renovating his home. It's what he'd been doing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
"And I just happened to hear the phone ring, I don't know what time it was. It was 8 something, whatever, and I picked it up, and my wife said, 'You're going to work.'I'm like, 'What are you talking about?' She goes, 'A small plane just went into the World Trade Center.'"
While en route, Russel said he heard on the radio that a second plane hit the other tower. He says he and his crew commandeered a bus from Webster.
Russell still remembers what he and his crew encountered upon arriving.
"Some of our guys were stripping off their clothes and putting on their gear. Nobody knew anything. Then we made the turn, and you looked down range, and you could see what I call a horizontal tornado. The smoke coming from Manhattan going into Brooklyn was just that black cloud," Russell recalled. "You'd run into somebody that you worked with, and, you know, 'Good to see you, brother.' And you really meant it."
Russell would go on to spend six months at ground zero.
"For my generation, that was our Pearl Harbor. We got attacked, more people died that day than in Pearl Harbor. And they're still dying unfortunately," Russell said.
Looking back 20 years, he said every one responded to the tragedy.
"As bad as it was, it's the best America's been in a long time. Everybody stepped up, everybody," Russel added. "Ninety-nine percent of the guys, if you asked them, if they'd do it again, absolutely. Even with what we know now, we'd still do it."


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