Yesterday we wrote about the tragedy of 9-11 and the horror that we all felt that day 16 years ago as we watched planes fly into the World Trade Center and the thousands of lives that were lost in New York City, in Washington D.C., and in rural Pennsylvania.
Almost everyone in the country either lost someone they knew or knows someone who lost people that fateful day.
But today we’re going to talk about just one of those people, he was a member of the Special Forces Regiment, a brother, although we never met. He was a member of the New York City Fire Department, a Fire Marshall who answered the call that morning and died comforting those around him in those final minutes. He was helping those people high up in the WTC who were worried that no one would come for them.
Ronald Bucca was everything you’d look for in both a Special Forces soldier and firefighter in the city of New York. Dedicated, relentless, brave and an absolute self-starter, he is the epitome of what made both professions the envy of their different realms in the world.
As a Fire Marshall, Bucca would investigate fires after the fact. But at the station when they got the call that the first Tower was hit, he was ten blocks away. He told his boss James Devery, “Let’s go.”
Bucca joined the Army near the end of the war in Vietnam and was a member of both Military intelligence and SF with the 11th SFG. All told he spent 29 years as a member of the military between his active duty and reserve time. His daughter joked that she learned early never to lie to her father as his intel background would alert him in a second if she wasn’t telling the truth.
Bucca joined the NYFD in the late 1970s and became a member of Rescue One which was a highly specialized part of the Fire Department. In 1986, he somehow survived a five-story fall while trying to help a fellow firefighter. Telephone wires broke his fall but his army training may have saved his life. As he plummeted to the ground, he executed a PLF (parachute landing fall) although he still broke his back and knee in the process. After his miraculous landing, he became known as the “Flying New York City Fireman”
Bucca could have retired with a disability pension but he vowed to return to Rescue One in a year. He designed his own physical therapy program and spent the next year in grueling, painful training, slowly working his way back. And sure enough in 1987, he returned to Rescue One. In 1992 he became a Fire Marshall.
With his background as a Green Beret and with the Defense Intelligence Agency, he was the only member of the NYFD on the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City.
Having been on the scene for the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, Bucca kept plans for the WTC in his locker and was very familiar with the layout. He frequently told members of the task force that he expected another big terrorist attack in the city and especially at the WTC.
He kept flow charts of the terrorist’s cells and linked al-Qaeda to the bombing. He also identified a mole within the NYFD working as an accountant working for the terrorists. The mole had gotten blueprints of the World Trade Center and lied to get a second ID for Metrotech in Brooklyn, where the plans for the major city buildings were kept.
On the morning of September 11, he telephoned his wife who was at her job as a nurse to tell her the awful news. “A plane just went into the Trade Center, and we’re going into the building now,” he said.
He and Devery arrived just as the South Tower was hit. Using Bucca’s knowledge of the layout, they were sprinting up the stairs. But the athletic Bucca began to leave Devery in his wake. On the 51st floor, Devery came across Lin Young a worker for the city who was badly burned and bloodied and was making her way down from the 78th floor. Devery led the badly injured woman down the stairs through the debris and thick smoke to safety. Through radio recordings, the department tracked Bucca’s movements
He and a Battalion Commander, Otto Palmer made it all the way to the 78th floor, Palmer taking a freight elevator part of the way up. Bucca was the only firefighter to climb all 78 floors to the Sky Lobby. He and Palmer made it higher than any other firefighter did on that fateful day.
The two men were in contact via a radio at 9:52, that they were on the floor and there were pockets of fires that could be extinguished. They also reported that many of the people were beyond saving. “78th floor, numerous 10-45s, Code One,” Palmer said.
Bucca took off his jacket and wrapped it around two women who were injured. Then at 9:58:59 the tower collapsed. The civilians were later found with Bucca’s coat still wrapped around them.
His body wasn’t found until October 23, he was identified by his badge. His son walked beside the fire truck that bore his father’s body for his funeral. He later joined the Army and became a member of Special Forces, like his father. The Army named a camp in the Middle East after his dad, Camp Bucca where several high-value detainees were kept. Ron Bucca Jr. visited the camp before it was closed in Iraq. By then it was not his first deployment. The camp once held Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who would become the leader of the Islamic State. He was needlessly and foolishly released telling his captors that he would see them in New York.
Bucca would become the only Fire Marshall in the history of the New York City Fire Department to die in the line of duty. His story is one of resilience, dedication, and bravery. RIP, Never Forget.
Photos Courtesy of Wikipedia, Bucca Family