Disability Pride Month: Two-Time Survivor John Abruzzo

  • July 31, 2022
Portable wheelchair, blue finish with yellow seats and back support.
EVAC+CHAIR that carried John Abruzzo to safety on 9/11. Gift of Mike Fabiano.

Detailing his evacuation from the North Tower's 69th floor on 9/11, John Abruzzo called the efforts of the colleagues who saved his life "unbelievable." With Disability Pride Month drawing to a close, we're sharing the story of his second escape from the World Trade Center. 

Abruzzo is a quadriplegic who worked for the Port Authority as an associate accountant. On February 26, 1993, his evacuation took six hours - he was carried down 25 floors in his heavy electric wheelchair, finally transferring to a stretcher before making it out of the building. 

More than seven years later on the morning of September 11th, Abruzzo arrived at work with his new powered wheelchair, customized to give him the most possible mobility. But the new chair was not what helped him this time.  

A man in a white shirt and khaki pants sits to the left of a portable wheelchair with blue finish and yellow seat.

Abruzzo with the EVAC+Chair. Photo J. Conrad Williams, Jr., Newsday LLC © 2001

Mike Fabiano, the World Trade Center fire warden and a fellow Port Authority employee, thought of Abruzzo the minute he realized what was happening. Fabiano and a handful of co-workers transferred Abruzzo from his new wheelchair to a portable EVAC+Chair and began the descent from the 69th floor. The EVAC+Chair had sled-like components intended to make it much easier to move, but Fabiano and his colleagues still took turns handling it in the stairwell. Fifty floors down, they encountered firefighters who encouraged them to leave Abruzzo with them and continue their own evacuation. They refused. 

Reaching the lobby, they carried Abruzzo in the portable chair over debris and broken glass, lifting him through a broken window and onto the sidewalk. Firefighters at that point relieved them and delivered Abruzzo to the hospital, where he was treated for smoke inhalation and advised to rest for several weeks. On September 12th though, the evacuees who had carried him all reported to the Port Authority's provisional headquarters in New Jersey to assist with the aftermath of the attacks. 

The EVAC-Chair that carried Abruzzo to safety is also credited with saving five others on 9/11. Ironically, it was among the safety upgrades put into place after the 1993 bombing and in response to difficult evacuation stories like Abruzzo's.  

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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