Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guide dog for blind man is another 9/11 hero

 Almost 2 hours and 1,463 stairs to safety

I wrote on the 10th anniversary about the surviving search and rescue dogs of 9/11.

Roselle led his blind owner to safety to become
another hero dog of 9/11
Roselle is another hero dog from that tragic day, leading his owner and others down 1,463 stairs of  The World Trade Center Tower to safety.  

Michael Hingson and his yellow Labrador retriever, Roselle, just spent nearly two hours trudging down 78 flights of stairs of the World Trade Center's Tower One. Shortly after, they were about 100 yards from Tower Two when it collapsed, sending tons of debris into the sky and thousands of New Yorkers running for their lives.
In their mad scramble to get away, Roselle finally found a doorway in which to take cover, which turned out to be a subway station. Just inside was a woman who was disoriented and asking for help. Hingson took her arm and said not to worry, his guide dog would keep her from falling down the stairs.

"Yeah, it's a flipping of roles," says Hingson, blind since birth in 1950, from his home in Novato. "But it was natural. She asked for help. People grab me by the arm and try taking me across the street, sometimes when I'm not even going that direction. Don't just assume I need you to."

That is one of the main points in his new book, "Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero," which has been on the New York Times bestseller list since its Aug. 2 release.

Hingson was in his 78th-floor office at data protection company Quantum/ATL at 8:46 that morning when the first plane hit, more than a dozen floors above him. He grew up in Southern California, so his first move was toward a door frame. Ceiling tiles began falling. He thought there may have been a gas explosion. 

"I remember the muffled explosion and the feeling of the building tipping," says Hingson. "I remember walking into the stairwell and smelling jet fuel. That's a stark memory."

With a co-worker and his dog, Hingson began the long journey down 1,463 stairs. The air became thick with smoke and the presence of hundreds of other people trying to flee. People started calling out to make way as they carried bloodied and burned victims down the stairs. Then the firefighters appeared, heading up to the fire. More than one stopped to see if the blind man needed help, with one so determined that they almost get into an argument.

"I didn't want to be responsible for someone not being where they should have," Hingson says, adding that he never found out whether the firefighters with whom he came into contact survived. "They were up for the job," he says. "They showed no fear."

Although he calls his experience "miraculous," at one point in the book he described himself as just a guy who walked down a lot of stairs. The achievement was not that he was a blind guy led from a burning building by a dog. It's the teamwork that went into it.

"Everyone says, 'The dog led you out.' No, she guided me out," says Hingson, who appeared on "Larry King Live" shortly after 9/11. "It's got to be my responsibility. To say it's amazing that a blind person (got out) means you question why a blind person was there to begin with."An immune system disorder likely caused by exposure to the toxins she inhaled on 9/11 forced Roselle into retirement in 2007. She died in June at age 13.

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