When Tim Brown worked on the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing with fellow firefighters, his best friend said the scale was unlike anything imaginable.
“That’s it Tim. We’ve been to the big one,” Terry Hatton told him. “That’s the biggest thing we’re ever going to see.”
Six years later, the unthinkable happened when two planes toppled the World Trade Center. Both of those men who toiled in the wreckage in Oklahoma were there on ground zero. Brown–a graduate of the University of New Haven and a student of former East Haven Fire Chief Wayne Sandford–survived. More than 90 of his friends died that day.
When the first plane struck, Brown was having Cheerios and reading a newspaper at the 7 World Trade Center cafeteria across from the twin towers. As a member of a response team that works closely with the mayor, Brown was wearing a suit and tie. He went to his car and put on boots and a helmet.
The scene was chaotic, with debris and people falling from above. Near the entrance, he saw his best friend preparing to climb the stairs to look for survivors. Hatton was a tall man, and with his boots he was almost seven feet high.
“I ran over to him and he wrapped his big arms around me and he squeezed me tight. He put his cheek right here on my face and he said to me, ‘I love you brother. I may never see you again.’”
Hutton began his ascent up the tower. Brown never saw him–or any of the other firefighters with him–again.
“Terry was one of those guys who was always thinking ten steps ahead of everybody else. Not only was he tremendously brave, he was extremely intelligent. He saw what was happening more than I did,” Brown said.
As the panic in the mezzanine area unfolded, Brown coordinated with local and state officials. And when the building began to fall, he escaped into the nearby hotel. In pitch black with the roar of the collapsing metal louder than anything he ever heard, he thought of his brother and how he’d never get to hold him again.
When he exited the hotel, everything had changed.
On Thursday night, Brown was a guest of the Medical Reserve Corps at the West Haven Conference Center. It was a homecoming for the firefighter-turned-advocate.
In recent years, he’s championed for emergency personnel who succumbed to cancer after working on the World Trade Center cleanup. He also has become a face for the families of 9/11 victims and opposed a planned mosque near ground zero.
Brown was also one of the five people profiled in the documentary “Rebirth” by Jim Whitaker. The documentary tracks several people affected by the attacks. After 10 years, the raw grief turns to recovery for the victims. It airs on Sept. 11 on Showtime and is being released in select theaters later this month.
“It’s a story of grief, resilience of the human spirit and hope,” Brown said to the room full of emergency responders.
In the film, Brown deals with guilt for surviving after so many of his friends died. On 9/11/01, he regrouped with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s staff. Hutton’s wife worked for the mayor, and he saw her crying.
“She said to me, 'Where’s Terry?' and I knew,” Brown said. “What am I going to say? She said, 'What are you doing here? Go get him.’ But I knew he was gone. I held her as she cried.”
The wife didn’t know it at the time, but she was pregnant with Hutton’s only child. The daughter was named Terri.
“She’s nine years old and happy,” said Brown.
The Medical Reserve Corps, which hosted the event, is a group of volunteers trained to respond in the case of a large-scale emergency. They also work to improve the health and safety of a community. More information–including how to volunteer–can be found athttp://www.medicalreservecorps.gov.
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