On 20th anniversary, local firefighter recounts his experience at Ground Zero

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Marissa Castro

Billy Walker is a family friend who was a firefighter on 9/11. After 20 years I asked him if I could interview him about his story and he agreed to tell his story in our school newspaper. He told me his story right from the beginning.

On September 11,2001, Walker was in Boston dropping his daughter off at his mother’s house. When the plane hit the Twin Towers, he was called to New York to help rescue people in the buildings. Walker explained to me that when the first plane hit they just thought it was an accident, then the second plane hit and he had a feeling that something was happening.

Walker said that he was watching the news at the fire station with his friend. When he saw the second plane smash through the window, his chief called him and a co-worker of his into the office so everyone else wouldn’t panic. The chief explained to them that New York was in trouble because the Twin Towers were burning to the ground. So Walker and his friend went to New York to help.

Walker saw things that were unspeakable. Where the Twin Towers were you could smell death and feel sadness in the air.”

Walker said that people on the streets were horrified for their loved ones. The family members were crying and begging the firefighters to look for their husbands and grown children in the building.

He said there was a little old Italian woman whose husband went to see their son that worked in the building on the 96th floor. Walker said, “Don’t worry ma’am I’m going to find your son and husband.”  Walker suffered five burn injuries and a lung problem in the process of saving them.

I also got the chance to sit with his parents and daughter and ask them questions about Walker. His mother explained that Walker has always loved helping people. She said that Walker always wanted to be a firefighter since he was young. His father chimed in, saying that Walker was a hard worker when it came to helping out at the fire station.

I asked him if he knew the risks of being a firefighter. He told me that he did know what the risks were but that sometimes accidents happen. He had already had his first daughter at the time. She was about 11 or 14 at the time. I asked her what it was like to hear the news of 9/11 at a young age. She told me that hearing the news that the Twin Towers were being attacked was horrifying because her dad was in the Twin Towers evacuating people who were stuck in elevators and on the upper floors. 

Walker’s entire family was so upset about 9/11 and they all were in the living room just staring at the TV, hoping and praying that all of the firefighters and Walker were okay. On that day Walker called home to his wife and family to say, “Honey I’m at the Twin Towers, we are evacuating people. It’s really hot in here, I don’t know if I’m going to make it. Just tell everyone that I love them and I love you and our princess.”

Walker’s wife said that it was the hardest thing that she ever had to hear in her whole life. Walker’s daughter knew something was wrong after she saw her mother crying and she told me that when her mother told her what was happening with her dad at the Twin Towers she was in disbelief.

Walker was scared for his life but he knew that being a firefighter meant risking his life for others to live. He stayed in New York for the whole week after 9/11 happened. Walker said the things he saw on that day were horrifying to remember. When his week was up in New York he was happy to go home and see his wife and family.

Walker’s wife said that when she saw him walk through the door with his hand wrapped and with his gear bag, she was so happy that her husband was alive and he didn’t have major burns.

I asked him what was going through his mind when he was in the Twin Towers? Walker said that he was extremely determined to get people to safety and home to their families. He also said that he repeated something to himself, namely that a fireman’s job is to protect the civilians no matter the cost. Walker said that helped him through everything.

Walker said that the hardest thing to watch on his way to the Twin Towers was people jumping off the upper floors so they wouldn’t burn to death in the building. He said that the people that were jumping off would yell and then all people would hear splat and bones crack. Walker said it got worse over time. As time went by the smoke got so bad that you couldn’t even see the sun at the moment.

20 years later, Walker is a dad to three kids. He still works with the fire department in Boston and travels between fire stations all over Massachusetts. Walker said in the last part of his interview that 9/11 to him is a day of honor and tragedy. He also says that he tries really hard to honor the people who died in the Twin Towers and in the planes as much as he can. The fire station honors the people in 9/11 who have passed on by lowering the U.S. flag.