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'It was the building collapsing right on top of me' | An Atlanta officer's 9/11 story

Officer Jay Pagan was an EMT in the Bronx before he joined APD in 2014. On 9/11, he responded to the World Trade Center to save others when it began to fall.

ATLANTA — When Atlanta Officer Jay Pagan was trapped under a firetruck as Tower One collapsed onto him on 9/11, he said he thought of his pregnant girlfriend and their daughter, yet to be born.

He recalled screaming, 'I want to be a father!" hoping in the darkness his plea would find some higher power.

Pagan was an EMT in New York on September 11th, 2001, and he survived under that firetruck and lived to see the birth of his daughter. 

RELATED: 'Ordinary people turned into extraordinary human beings' | New York City firefighters remember 9/11

Leaders in Georgia and around the country on Saturday marked 20 years since 9/11, speaking of the bravery and heroism exhibited by first responders. Pagan is a living example of it.

He joined the APD force in 2014, after 16 years in the Bronx as an EMT. In 2019 the Atlanta Police Department shared his 9/11 story:

Pagan recounted at that time that he was maybe 50-100 feet away from the entrance of Tower One, the North Tower, when he suddenly "heard a loud explosion from up above."

It was the initial moment of that tower's collapse.

"A portion from the top floors had exploded and the building was coming down," Pagan wrote in a reflection published by APD. "After hearing the explosion and seeing a large cloud of smoke coming down, I began to run for my life."

He did not make it far before the debris from above began to fall around him. He was hit in the head and right shoulder and then dover under a fire truck.

RELATED: 20 years after 9/11 terrorist attacks, legacy of ‘the man in the red bandana’ stronger than ever

Pagan recalled another man who kept trying to run only to get knocked down by debris, and pulling him under the fire truck with him. 

:Under the fire truck, he thought they were safe, but "the pieces of debris were getting bigger and closer," the roar of the tower's fall getting louder.

"I cold remember holding my head in a guarding position screaming, 'Oh my God,'" Pagan wrote. "It was the building collapsing right on top of me."

He described the choking effect as the debris pushed down on the fire truck and the dust filled in around him.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

"The truck got heavy and I could feel it compressing on my chest to the point that I could no longer move in any position. I was trapped, choking on the thick smoke, with nowhere to go, and in complete darkness," he wrote.

It was at that moment that he let out the scream that he wanted to be a father. 

"I could see pictures in my head of my girlfriend and me. I was rubbing her belly. We were both happy and smiling," he wrote. "I cold not believe what was happening."

In that moment of despair, he finally heard someone else yell out, "Is anyone out there?"

He yelled back, banged on the bottom of the truck, tried to make whatever noise he could.

"He wasn't hearing me clear because of the alarm sounds. I frantically continued to scream and bang even harder," Pagan wrote.

Then he heard, "I hear you, hold on tight."

Rescuers began to dig out the debris around the truck, giving him the lifeline back to the young family he worried he'd never get to see.

"Little by little, I began to see rays of light coming underneath the fire truck," Pagan wrote. "It seemed like forever, but I was finally pulled out."