Running Toward the Fire: A First Responder’s Account

Ramona Diaz-Allegrini poses for a photo in front of a smoky pile of debris at Ground Zero. The Koenig Sphere and the steel facades of the Twin Towers are visible in the background.
Ramona Diaz-Allegrini at ground zero. Photo by Andrea Booher.

Ramona Diaz-Allegrini, a New York City union carpenter, was one of the few female first responders who aided in the rescue and recovery effort at ground zero.

Before the attacks on that tragic morning, Diaz-Allegrini was working on the construction of an Upper East Side high-rise building. Perched on top of a crane, she watched in horror as two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. In that terrifying moment, Diaz-Allegrini’s only thought was to make sure her 4-year-old daughter was safe. She raced home to Coney Island where her daughter was waiting for her, but their reunion was cut short by a loud voice ringing out from her work radio.

“Where are you? We need you to come down.” It was Diaz-Allegrini’s employer, asking her to join him at ground zero. Her heart sank. How can one person run toward a fire, when everyone else is running away? She was afraid to answer the call, to face the devastation of her city, but felt an overwhelming urge to help. With her knowledge of construction and ironwork, she knew she could help.

“I had to do the right thing,” Diaz-Allegrini said, recalling her decision. “I had to put on my big girl jacket. I kissed my daughter, got in my car, and drove.”

When she arrived at ground zero, the site was in chaos. She was immediately asked to join a bucket brigade to remove debris from the wreckage formed by the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. For two weeks, she worked nearly 24 hours a day in the humid pile, burning, cutting, and transporting rubble.

During the spare hours Diaz-Allegrini was able to rest, she found refuge at St. Paul’s Chapel. Volunteers soon arrived at the site with supplies, food, and fresh clothing. She was inspired by the dedication of the workers and volunteers and became a leader on her own team. She would strategize and instruct workers, including her boss, on the best methods to clean up the site. “I felt like I could take charge,” Diaz-Allegrini said.

Diaz-Allegrini always possessed the skills and intelligence of a capable carpenter, but in the midst of the extreme emotional and physical challenges of working at ground zero, she truly found her strength and her voice. She earned the respect of her team. She knew she was meant to work in carpentry and that she would remember the lessons she learned from ground zero for the rest of her life.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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