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Ed Prisinzano

PS 79 is a five-story school one block from the Grand Concourse on East 181st Street. The building towers over the surrounding structures and has a clear view into Manhattan.

September 11, 2001, was a New York City primary day. I was in my office at 8:55 a.m. or so preparing for the day’s gym classes when the principal called me to her office.

I did not know it then but that day became the biggest emergency in my thirty-nine year career. When I arrived, I saw the Today Show covering a plane crash. One of the Twin Towers was on fire. Shortly I received a phone call from my son, who was at home in Connecticut. He related that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. As we spoke, the second plane crashed into the second building. The chilling knowledge hit everyone. It was a terrorist attack.

The principal implemented a plan to prevent possible chaos should panicked parents arrive at the school. She could not close the doors because of the primary. Very quickly a crowd of over fifty parents wanted to barge past security to get their children. Fortunately, there was a police officer in the building due to the primary. Because he was unable to calm the crowd, he called the precinct for backup. He was informed there would be no backup. We later learned the precinct was responsible for the George Washington Bridge. Before noon, the only police officer we had was ordered to return to the precinct.

Eventually the rush slowed and the evacuation, which began around 9:30 a.m., ended around 3:00 p.m. All children were accounted for and all were released to the proper person. The staff of PS 79 performed magnificently under incredible duress.

On September 10, 2001, one would need to climb five flights to room 507 and use binoculars to see the Twin Towers. By 2:30 on September 11, 2001, the large plumes of black smoke were clearly visible to the naked eye.

I arrived home in Connecticut well after 5:00 p.m. My family in Connecticut, New York and North Dakota were relieved to know I was safe. I found out later that two of our teachers had parents who were able to escape the towers. Not one of our parents was killed or injured that day.