Nine electricians from E-J Electric Installation Co. escaped from the World Trade Center before the 110-story twin towers collapsed.
“We had a total of 12 people down there, nine of who were working that day,” said Tony Mann, president of E-J Electric, Long Island City, N.Y. “Thank God all of them got out alive. We were lucky. New York has been a war zone. It’s unbelievable what’s been going on here.”
E-J Electric, which had an office in Tower 2, built and maintained the World Trade Center’s entire security system. On the morning of Sept. 11, the electricians were doing routine maintenance work when the first hijacked commercial airliner slammed into Tower 1.
“Five minutes before it happened, one of our foremen was on the 107th floor,” Mann said. “His radio wasn’t working, so he came down and was walking across the lobby when the first plane hit. He then ran down to the basement to make sure all our people got out.”
The electricians ran out of the World Trade Center and kept going, Mann said.
“A lot of them didn’t stop until they got to Central Park,” Mann said. “They were lucky to get out early enough.”
Jim Usher, vice president of E-J, however, stayed behind to help more people out of the building, Mann said.
“He’s very modest, but he got out but then helped injured people,” he said. “A bank had a medical facility across the street and he helped them get medical treatment. He ended up going to the hospital afterwards, but it turns out that a lot of the blood on him was other people’s blood.”
Usher helped alert the contractors who had offices in the sublevel of Tower 2. When the airplane struck Tower 1, Usher thought it was a bomb. He then knocked on the contractors' doors to tell them to get out of the building as quickly as possible. Although some may consider Usher a hero, he said he only did a fraction of what other rescuers did to help in the midst of the tragedy.
"There’s been a tremendous outpouring of people, both professionally and volunteer that have literally worked around the clock to find any more survivors," Usher said. "I did nothing compared what other people did."
Mann said he heard the news when someone interrupted his meeting at the Chrysler Building.
“Someone said that the World Trade Center had been hit,” Mann said. “I immediately left the meeting and went back to our office because the cell phones were knocked out and you couldn’t get service. The subways were still working at that point.”
When he arrived back at his office, he had to wait for hours for the news about his electricians.
“We didn’t hear about any of our people until after noon,” he said. “They couldn’t get phones to make a call because all of the phone lines were being overused. We talked to family members and people that had worked for us down there. They hadn’t heard from them. It was a horrible couple of hours waiting to hear.”
While all nine of the electricians were accounted for, Mann said he lost many friends in the tragedy.
“I have several friends in my community that are missing and presumed dead,” Mann said. “If you’re from this area, everyone you know knows someone who is missing. It’s sad to see the friends with three little kids. It’s horrible.”
Mann said he has not visited Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center.
“Security is unbelievable,” Mann said. “It’s really on a need-to-be-down-there basis.”
His electricians, however, are down there helping with the rescue and recovery effort.
“On the rebuilding side, we’ve had people down there working on the cleanup effort,” he said. “We brought communication cables to the military’s floating hospital, which unfortunately, has turned into a morgue.”
E-J also cooperated with the FBI to help out with the investigation. “We did the whole security system down there and we provided our entire database to the FBI last week,” Mann said. “They had 10 FBI agents at our subcontractor’s office in California to download the database, which included everyone that worked there including photographs.”