9/11 New York Fire Chief: Zawahiri death gives us closure and a sense of unity

Lt Kevin Pfeifer died on 9/11. Pic: Chief Joseph Pfeifer

The weekend drone attack in Kabul will have stirred emotions all over the world.

From London to Bali, from Nairobi to Madrid – in all corners, the al Qaeda terror group has murdered and maimed.

More than anywhere else though, New York is the place which still bears the deepest scars.

In the borough of Queens, with the Manhattan skyline beyond, as the world absorbed the killing of the Al Qaeda leader; I met a man called Joseph Pfeifer.

On 11 September 2001 Mr Pfeifer was a New York City Fire Chief.

343 of his colleagues died in the twin towers that day, his brother, Kevin among them.

Lt Kevin Pfeifer died on 9/11. Pic: Chief Joseph Pfeifer
Image:
Lt Kevin Pfeifer died on 9/11. Pic: Chief Joseph Pfeifer

“It was a beautiful summer day like today,” he recalled. “Bright sunshine and I was standing in the street and I saw the first plane aim and crash into the World Trade Center.

“Within 102 minutes both World Trade Center towers collapsed to the ground. It went completely dark. Then we couldn’t see the hand in front of our face and wondered if we were still alive.”

I asked how he felt when he heard the news that Ayman Al Zawahiri had been killed.

“Hearing the news that one of the masterminds of 9/11 was taken out allowed me a sense of closure,” he said. He spoke slowly with emotion and deep reflection.

“It allowed us victims of terrorism to have a voice; that we’re heard, that the terrorists won’t be tolerated and that their acts are acts against humanity.”

His recollections to me show how, like so many, he represented the very of humanity that day in 2001.

He was the first fire chief on the scene in downtown Manhattan. He coordinated those early minutes as his firefighters went in and up. Among those who climbed the towers, on his command, was his own brother. So many people were saved because of the firefighters bravery.

Joseph Pfeifer (front left) helping to carry a stretcher away from Ground Zero
Image:
Joseph Pfeifer (front left) helping to carry a stretcher away from Ground Zero

He has written a book, Ordinary Heroes, a memoir of his experiences, his reflections and his journey.

Of Ayman Al Zawahiri’s killing he said: “His death makes a big difference because not only does it bring us back to that day and losing almost 3,000 people, but it allows us to look forward with a sense of hope that this evil person and his group of terrorists won’t continue those actions.

“And we get another sense. We get a sense of global unity, of victims and people of goodwill standing together and saying let’s close this chapter and let’s start a new one of kindness for one another.”

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