Aiken Standard, August 30, 2011, By Rob Novit
On Sept. 11, 2001, Rick Doran and other off-duty New York firefighters had literally commandeered a public transit bus and headed frantically toward the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan following the terrorist attacks.
As Doran, now an Aiken resident, described it to Aiken Rotary Club members Monday, they were on the way when the second jet slammed into the south tower.
The 13 firefighters on the bus reached the Midtown tunnel, which has tollgates. To their amazement, a tollbooth operator wouldn’t let them through the gate.
Doran made it clear: They had already “kidnapped” the bus driver and, if the tollbooth attendant continued to block their way, they would run him over and keep going. The attendant let them through.
“He kept us there five minutes and saved our lives,” Doran said. “We would have been in the first tower going down, but did get caught in the dust of the second tower going down.”
Before becoming a firefighter, Doran worked as a public school teacher and was an assistant director of environmental health and safety in higher education. At the time of Sept. 11, Doran was serving with Rescue Company 4, providing combined rescue and firefighting services.
Following the tragedy, Doran had the honor of putting out the first U.S. flag on the site. He is pictured on a Time magazine cover.
His own company lost nine men, while the entire battalion lost 92. With cellular service out of commission, it took Doran’s wife two terrifying days before she learned that her husband was still alive.
For the next five and one-half months, Doran spent a week at a time in the vicinity of Ground Zero. He showed the Rotarians photos of the massive cloud of toxic dust right after the attack – the cloud lingering on for much longer.
Doran retired in 2004 because of health issues and balky knees he injured in the line of duty.
“A lot of people are worse off than me,” he said. “It’s still amazing that some would claim that people weren’t affected by the cloud and dust.”
Only last year did Congress agree to fund health care for workers who took part in the cleanup and rescue efforts.
“You don’t have to be a scientist to know that civilians, firefights and policemen are all having problems,” Doran said. “I take medications now that the government is paying for, thankfully.”
Following his retirement, Doran looked at 26 areas in the South before buying property in North Carolina. Then he heard about Aiken and Woodside Plantation “and fell in love with the community” before relocating in 2009.
He won’t return to New York on Sept. 11, but expects to visit soon afterward to meet with the relatives of those from his company and battalion who lost their lives 10 years ago – many of them he had known well.
“I’m still in pretty close contact with many of those families,” Doran said. “That day will be special for me.”