One of the things that New Yorkers took pride in following Sept. 11, 2001 was the bravery shown by New York City emergency workers. As thousands of civilians fled the scene of the attack on the World Trade Center, firefighters and police officers headed towards it to make sure those civilians were safe.
One of those police officers was Peter Manton. Manton, who was a member of the Manhattan North Task Force, spoke to members of the Levittown Historical Society at their Nov. 21 meeting about his experiences that day.
Manton began an overnight shift at 10 p.m. on Sept. 10 that ended at 6:30 a.m. the next morning. Rather than go home, he chose to earn overtime pay by testifying in traffic court. It was there that a sergeant told him about the attacks.
Manton and two of his squad members headed to a station at Randall's Island before traveling into Manhattan. Once they arrived, the second tower was already collapsed.
"It went down as we were en route," said Manton. "When we rounded the corner, that was the first thing we saw. It looked like the moon. There was just dust everywhere and a building gone."
Manton and his squad members had their truck, which contained helmets and gas masks. Manton opened the truck and started handing out equipment to any cop that showed up at the scene. "I emptied the entire van of all of the equipment I had," he said.
As a count was taken of the officers at the scene, horror was unfolding in the remaining tower. "We were witnessing people choose to jump from the towers rather than burned alive," he said. Once the count was complete, the officers headed towards the tower. But they didn't make it far.
"We were about 1,000 feet from the entrance to the remaining tower when it started to fall," said Manton. "It just pancaked down upon itself, and a massive cloud was moving towards us."
Most of Manton's unit got into their trucks and drove around the corner, but Manton couldn't. "I put it in gear, look around, and there’s people fleeing in every direction," he said. "I had to make a choice. If I put this in gear, I’m going to run 20, 30 civilians over."
He chose to stay, and take the risk that the cloud of dust behind him wasn’t the building falling. His van was impacted, but it wasn't from debris. "It was just dust," he said. "The whole thing was intact, but the whole thing rocked like it had been hit by an 18-wheeler."
Manton stayed throughout the day. At one point, Manton and the two squad members fled uptown due to a broken gas line. Despite the long shift, it never crossed his mind not to go back.
"The two kids asked me, 'Do you think we have to go back? Can’t we just go home?’” he said. "[I said] 'Guys, we have to. It’s our job. People need our help.'"
The Levittown Historical Society has a museum that is open on Wednesdays from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, check out our feature on the museum here.