TODAY   |  September 11, 2013

9/11 firefighter: I still deal with survivor’s guilt

New York City firefighter John Morabito was on duty when the attacks of Sept. 11 on the World Trade Center took place 12 years ago. He tells the TODAY anchors how the day still affects him and how he regards his own survival while remembering those who died that day.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 8:50. the heroic firefighters of tin house were among the first at the scene at the twin towers collapsed 12 years ago. what they experienced that morning would be unlike any other tragedy they ever faced. take a look.

>> i was there so fast. my car was smoking. it wouldn't go any faster than it was going. the only people going in the direction i was going in were all the firemen and cops. i could see the smoke and the buildings and i was like, oh, this is worse than i thought it was.

>> tin house lost six of their own on that day. their story is told on discovery channel 's special 9/11 firehouse which is narrated by willie geist . we're joined by john who was on duty. willie good to see you. john, we had a moment of silence across the nation to mark the 12th anniversary and i was stealing a glimpse of you standing on the side and some of the imagines were on the screen and i think it was difficult for you to watch.

>> it's always very difficult this time of year. it brings back somber feelings. time to reflect on your own life. it's also an opportunity for me to rejoice because i survived. dealing with the survivors guilt directly afterwards and wondering why i didn't die. i was there and working and in the trade center when the collapsed and they were all killed and i survived. it is an opportunity for me to rejoice. to be able to be here. every day things -- you get a parking ticket, babies are crying. hurricane sandy. i get to experience it. the guys on the wall, they would give one day to be back here. so when i hear taps and i hear the drums, it brings back bad memories but at the same time it makes me feel happy to be here. to be alive.

>> i was going to say there's a bittersweet irony. on one hand it's so hard to remember but what does it mean to you to have the whole nation stop and say, we remember those who fell?

>> it's extremely powerful. it's an extremely powerful feeling to know that everyone is thinking about you. everyone's thoughts today are on the firefighters and the rescue workers and the people and what we went through in new york city . i was so proud of new yorkers. we got a bad rap throughout the world. i saw people helping one another with their lives at risk. they weren't everybody running out the door. everybody was stopping and helping -- women took off their high heel shoes because they wouldn't walk. there was a blind gentleman with a seeing eye dog. his normal way of leaving the building was no longer optional. he had nowhere to go and they grabbed him under his arm and grabbed his dog and i watched them carry him out. i'm proud of the people of new york and the attention of the world is now on us.

>> for this special on discovery. a lot of firefighters spoke out for the very first time. why do you think it has been so hard for so many to speak about the horrors of that day?

>> like myself, there are probably thousands of stories of what went on that day with firefighters and rescue works and what everybody was doing. for myself, it was easier to speak about it. for others it was easier to keep quite about it. my brother just recently spoke about what he went through on that day. he is also a firefighter and to this day i had never known what he had gone through. when he spoke about it he broke down and he said i'm never going to do it again. that was the one time i let my guard down and i'm never going to speak about it again. firefighters, we're brave. we have something to protect and we don't wear our emotions on our sleeves. so it's hard for them to speak about what happened that day.

>> you mention your brother, something happened with one of your brothers on that day. you had a moment of grief and then relief. let's take a look at the documents.

>> i look at the list and my brother's name is on the list. i'm absolutely devastated. heart broken. now my brother is dead. i love him so much and i see this one hydrant and i get down on my knee and i'm taking the water from the hydrant and i'm washing my face and i'm just kind of taking a sip of water and i look up and my brother comes walking right in front of me. i'm like how is this even possible in all of this madness.

>> you thought he was gone.

>> i had contacted my family and i spoke with my mom and she said i'm glad you're alive. i'm glad you made it. she said but your brother is down there. i was ready to leave. my day was done. i survived. this was a good opportunity to get myself checked out. as soon as i heard my brother was missing i went right back into the trade center . i didn't feel right going home knowing that he was there. even if he was killed, i needed to find him. with all of that going on and the trade center and everything everywhere for him to walk in front of me at the same place at the same time, it wasn't consequence. he was put there.

>> willie in telling the story, helping these men and women tell the story, what surprised you?

>> you know, we talked about these firefighters as heros sort of in the abstract now. it's almost become trite to say they're heros but you stop and watch what they did, the story like johns and the guys in his house, they look up and the sky is literally falling. the sky is black. bodies are falling out of the sky and they ran in. they ran in when everyone else was running out and that is real honest to goodness super heroism heroism.

>> can't be said enough. john thank you so much. willie , thank you. you can see 9/11 firehouse tonight at 8:00 eastern and pacific .