A firetruck stands in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, crushed and mangled. On it reads the words “Ladder Co. 3” for the group of firefighters that manned it.
The entire Seton Hall men’s basketball team gathered around the crushed truck on Nov. 27 during a visit to the museum, listening to the words of the lone survivor whose crew rode on the truck on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Ladder 3 had great comradery,” Bill Spade, a 1981 Seton Hall graduate, said. “You walked around with your head held high.”
The Seton Hall players were at the museum ahead of participating in the Never Forget Tribute Classic on Dec. 9 at Prudential Center, learning about the lives lost and the purpose of the event in benefitting the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund. The fund was created just six days after the attacks to support the education of children who lost a loved one on Sept. 11.
The fund exists to provide education assistance in college and beyond to financially needy children of those killed or permanently disabled due to the terrorist attacks, and during the rescue activities relating to those attacks.
Spade recounted to the team his experience of Sept. 11, in which 11 firefighters went aboard Ladder 3 to assist on the site of the terror attacks.
The unit would normally have been able to send just six firefighters, but since it was the first day of school in New York, the night tour hung around for breakfast to try and wait out the traffic. Spade met his crew at the scene.
From breakfast to the barreling embers, Ladder 3 set up the stairs of the north tower to save trapped individuals on the higher levels. Captain Paddy Brown called to the station that the crew was going to head higher.
A few minutes later, at 10:28 a.m., the north tower crashed. Everyone died.
Spade was stuck in a stairwell in the lobby of the north tower that he jumped into when he heard the crash. He was trapped for one hour in that concrete staircase, a part of which is in the Memorial Museum today.
In his time in the staircase, Spade and other firefighters made a human chain to rescue five people trapped behind a door close by.
Spade and those few were able to escape, but New York lost 343 firefighters that day, as the exchange of tours brought more firefighters to the scene.
After Spade completed his story, each member of Seton Hall’s team shook his hand. For Desi Rodriguez, Spade’s story left a lasting impact.
“Ladder 3, the way [Spade] explained it, they were having breakfast and called on a regular phone,” Rodriguez said. “They lost their lives trying to save other people in the building.”
Rodriguez was a 6-year-old kindergartener when the attacks occurred. Going to school in the Bronx, N.Y., Rodriguez was just a half-hour drive from the Twin Towers.
“My teacher was reading to the class, and then she ran to the door,” Rodriguez said. “She told us to stay there. My mom was worried, so she picked me up early. After, I watched the news and saw the buildings in flames.”
Six current players on Seton Hall’s men’s basketball team, including Rodriguez, lived in the New York area and were under the age of six when the tragedy happened. One of the team’s youngest players, Jordan Walker, was just two years old on Sept. 11, 2001. Others, like Angel Delgado, were not in America when the attacks occurred.
Spade, who is now disabled after being a firefighter for nearly 18 years, likes to follow his alma mater’s basketball team and attends six or seven games per year.
“I love the guys, I love the comradery,” Spade said. “That’s what firefighting is, a team effort.”
Currently, Spade volunteers at the September 11 Museum each Friday to tell his story and honor his fallen crew members.
Spade also continues to benefit from the partner of the Never Forget Tribute Classic, the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, as it helped his son Billy graduate from Seton Hall in 2016.
“When my son Billy become of age, they came through and assisted me and helped pay my bills off,” Spade said.
Now, Billy is an assistant nurse at Staten Island Hospital, and Spade’s other son is a high school junior who will be assisted by the fund once he reaches college.
To date, 3,300 students have been helped with $145 million raised by the fund, according to executive director of the fund Rhianna Quinn Roddy. There are still 3,000 more students to assist in their education, and that is where the Never Forget Tribute Classic comes in to help raise funds.
The players spent their visit learning about the fund and walking through the museum, where they were struck by remaining foundation from the Twin Towers and a beam that stands tall above everything else, adorned with ‘missing’ posters and memorabilia from rescue groups.
Walking through the museum and hearing about the fund, senior Ismael Sanogo was reminded of the help he received when Hurricane Katrina affected his family.
“[The fund] is amazing, the kids who get that help are blessed,” Sanogo said. “Whenever you go through a building this historical, you’re bound to remember events like [Hurricane Katrina].”
Sanogo said he and the team were overwhelmed when they heard of the opportunity to experience the museum and understand what people went through, as well as to get a better idea of the fund.
“It’s great to educate these young men who were three, four, five years old at the time,” Willard said. “For them to come here and get a sense of the magnitude of this event I think is the most important thing we’re doing. For the team to understand what they’re playing for, how important it is that they’re helping raise money for these families and the fact that they’re honoring all the people that lost their lives in this event, to give them that sense of history is extremely important.”
The Never Forget Tribute Classic consists of a doubleheader of games on Dec. 9 at Prudential Center, starting with No. 19 Seton Hall taking on VCU at 3 p.m. and No. 5 Florida facing No. 17 Cincinnati at 6 p.m.
After hearing Spade’s story and learning those of many others throughout their tour, Seton Hall’s matchup with VCU now takes on a new meaning. It is not just about getting a win, but playing for those who have fallen, like Spade’s crew, and for the children the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund are helping to pick back up after experiencing tragedy.
“I see how important it is, I’m definitely motivated,” Rodriguez said. “Knowing what we’re playing for, it puts a fire in me. That’s what excites me the most.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.