William Lehmann describes the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as being etched in his mind forever.
But it wasn’t until Friday, some six years after Lehmann retired from his service with New York City’s Bureau of Training, that the paramedic fully and publicly recounted his experience responding to the tragedy at Ground Zero that day.
“We have a duty to those who died and those who carry on our legacies,” Lehmann said.
Lehmann, now a Hope Mills resident, was the keynote speaker at Fayetteville Technical Community College’s 9/11 Memorial Ceremony on Friday, addressing a small audience inside the Tony Rand Student Center.
He earned his associate degree in Emergency Medical Science Bridging from FTCC.
Lehmann’s address followed remarks by FTCC Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Services Dr. Mark Sorrells, as well as a candle-lighting led by SGA President Jesse Watts.
Sorrells commented on the way the tragedy sparked patriotism and unity among Americans.
“Out of the flames came a united force that was determined to work through and defeat terrorism,” Sorrells said.
Lehmann’s tale is harrowing. He was just 24 years old and a FDNY paramedic of six years in the fall of 2001.
On the morning of Sept. 11, Lehmann’s day should have been winding down. He was officially with EMS Station 44 in Brooklyn then but had wrapped up an overnight shift in Manhattan at 7 a.m. with only a training session left downtown at City Hall.
After meeting up with some coworkers and grabbing a bagel and coffee, Lehmann was on Cortlandt Way, less than two blocks from the World Trade Center, when the first plane struck, hitting the North Tower at 8:46 a.m.
“It’s hard to imagine how much the world can change in an instant,” Lehmann said, describing the sound of the impact as “a screech and a boom that was completely unnatural.”
Lehmann’s group took off running toward the sound, entering a stretch of hours responding to the chaos. He worked inside both towers and the nearby Marriott, which was used for staging and treatment.
There is no way to tally the deaths he witnessed first-hand although they would include colleagues and friends, as well as countless strangers who died in and around the buildings.
But no loss remains more vivid to Lehmann than that of firefighter Daniel Suhr, who was about 40 feet ahead of Lehmann on the sidewalk by the towers when he was struck by someone who had jumped from the building.
“That event changed me,” said Lehmann, who until then felt like he was witnessing things in a murky slow motion. “All the surrealness, the blurry colors, came instantly into focus.”
There is also no way to count the lives Lehmann helped save, working for hours until he himself was struck with debris and taken for medical attention. He returned to work after being treated.
Lehmann said he normally spends every day between 8:46 a.m. and 9:02 a.m. — the time each tower was struck — “disconnected from everyone and everything.” But while the memories remain painful, Lehmann focused on the heroic response of those at Ground Zero.
“As yet another year passes, I remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and think of those that are still to this day impacted by those events,” Lehmann said. “Today, we gather and embrace the memories of the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and coworkers, and so many souls who would never return to their loved ones. Today, we stand together in solidarity and reverence to honor their memory.”