9/11 survivor shares story with WBU crowd

April 25, 2012

LUBBOCK – Capt. Al Fuentes spoke to an enraptured crowd as he painted pictures of the horrible events of Sept. 1, 2001 -- pictures only a survivor can paint. From the deafening sounds of bodies hitting the concrete as people hurled themselves from World Trade Center windows, to the buildings crashing to the ground, Fuentes gave his first-hand account to a crowded room at Tuesday night’s Lubbock Lights Gala at the Overton Hotel.

The Lubbock Lights Gala serves as an annual scholarship fundraiser for Wayland Baptist University. On Tuesday, Wayland was raising money to benefit Lubbock students who are first responders. City of Lubbock Police Chief Roger Ellis, Fire Chief Mike Kemp, and licensed paramedic Charla Brogan, all Wayland graduates, were on hand to give testimonials about their educational experience at Wayland. Lubbock Mayor Tom Martin introduced the keynote speaker.

Capt. Fuentes led a contingent of fireboats up the East River on 9/11 to assist in the evacuation of civilians from the Trade Center towers. In his thick Brooklyn accent he told how events unfolded for him that day, from the immediate response when the first plane crashed into the north tower to watching as the second plane fly overhead, banking into the south tower.
Fuentes and members of his crew – his friends – left their boats to assist in the evacuation effort. Four hundred-three first responders died that day. Fuentes took cover as the first tower collapsed, reciting his favorite prayer as he took cover.

“It was total devastation,” he said. “There were fires burning everywhere.”
As he escaped the debris and dirt from the first tower’s collapse, he moved to assist with the second tower. He wasn’t as fortunate as it came down, however. Capt. Fuentes sustained life threatening, crushing injuries to his head and torso. He was pinned under a beam for nearly two hours, drifting in and out of consciousness. When awake he would radio coordinates to rescue workers who eventually found and freed him.

Fuentes doesn’t remember anything that happened once the second/north tower started coming down.

“My mind will not go there. Not to that place and time,” he said.
Fuentes underwent extensive trauma treatment and surgeries. One lung collapsed after being punctured by broken ribs and both were burned by smoke inhalation. He was induced into a coma to aid in his recovery – a process that continues.

“My recovery has taken years and I do not think it will ever end,” he said of the physical and emotional pain that exists today.

“I learned much on that day,” he said. “I saw the worst and I saw the best of humanity.”

He praised Wayland for its willingness to serve first responders and for raising scholarship money that will aid in their education. He said that as the emergency response arena continues to change due to world events, terrorism and natural disasters, it will be increasingly important for emergency professionals to be highly educated.

“We will face threats that we cannot see today,” he said.

Still, it’s the things he did see that continue to haunt his dreams.

“I am not a hero,” Fuentes said. “The heroes died that day. Thank you for calling me a faithful first responder.”