Retired Firefighter Bill Spade Helps Students Make Personal Connections to 9/11

Firefighter Bill Spade stands in front of a smartboard as he speaks to young people at the Museum’s Education Center. The young people are seated at tables with clipboards.
Retired Firefighter Bill Spade helps young people understand 9/11 from the perspective of a first responder who was there.

A New York City native, Bill Spade spent his career working to protect and support New Yorkers. He served two years in the New York City Police Department before joining the New York City Fire Department in 1985. By 1991, Spade’s hard work and determination earned him a spot on Staten Island's elite Rescue 5 – a unit of the Special Operations Command.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Spade was at work when the call came in that an airplane, hijacked Flight 11, had struck the World Trade Center. While driving towards the World Trade Center, Spade witnessed a second plane, hijacked Flight 175, impact the South Tower. He assisted with the evacuation but of the twelve responding members from Rescue 5, Spade is the only survivor.

Now retired from the FDNY, Spade is a docent at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. He shares his experiences with people from all walks of life by interpreting artifacts that also connect to 9/11, such as the Survivors' Stairs and Ladder Company 3 Firetruck.

Hearing Spade talk about his 9/11 experience is one way that students without a living memory of the attacks connect on a deeply personal level with those that lived through it. This is especially true for students participating in the 9/11 Museum's Ambassador Program - a year-long program for high school students. Spade has spoken to each ambassador class since the program began three years ago. His influence is evident in his son, John, who was 2-months old on 9/11.

Now an ambassador, John was inspired to join the program after attending an ambassador graduation with his father, "When my dad educated me on 9/11, which had been happening since directly after the attacks, I realized how important it was to preserve the history. To think that I could have easily lost my dad that day is something that touched my heart to inexplicable levels.…I started to say one day I would work to educate people born into a post 9/11 world not only to remember those who passed away, but to ensure an event like this never takes place again."

Spade will share his story along with 9/11 family member Allison Crowther and survivor Tom Canavan for students and teachers during the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s 16th anniversary webinar on Sept. 11, 2017. For more information about this free program and to register, click here.

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