Administration and Leadership, News

Blind 9/11 Survivor Delivers Compelling Keynote at 2017 National EMS Safety Summit

Michael Hingson, best-selling author and speaker, presented an inspirational talk at the National EMS Safety Summit on his 30 years in technology sales and management, his more than 50 years with guide dog partners and his survival of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He spoke about how to build a team on trust, using its strengths wisely, and harnessing the power of teamwork.

Blind since birth, Hingson was presented with his first guide dog at the age of 14. The use of guide dogs allowed him to begin developing his skills in trust, teamwork, leadership and adaptation in adverse situations and, ultimately, for one of his greatest challenges: being in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when it was hit by an airplane on September 11, 2001.

Mike shared his incredible story with the audience, and how he managed to escape the building by walking down 78 flights of stairs with his guide dog, Roselle.

The Impact

On the morning of September 11, Mike was in his office on the 78th floor, preparing for a series of meetings. Suddenly he felt an impact and the building began to sway. A friend who peered out a widow began to scream that he saw fire and paper coming out of the building. Mike could smell jet fuel and immediately guessed that building had been struck by an airplane.

Mike was ready, having prepared for emergencies because of his blindness. In fact, he developed the braille emergency guide for the World Trade Center towers. Roselle also remained calm, showing no signs of panic, so Mike knew he was in no immediate danger and could begin evacuating the building.

Making Their Way to Safety

Mike and his colleagues began to move calmly toward a stairway. As they made their way down the stairs, they had to make away for several burn victims who were carried past them.His friend David went ahead of the pack and became an audible focal point for those following behind him, occasionally yelling to him where they were and how clear the stairway was.

After noticing that there were 19 steps between each floor, Mike began to do the math and calculated that they had 1,463 stairs to descend. At the 30th floor they were met by firefighters. One of them offered to escort him down, but Mike declined—he and Roselle were doing fine and he didn’t want to break up the team of firefighters ascending the stairs.

As the stairwell filled with more people descending and firefighters ascending, Mike could feel it getting warmer—until they reached the lobby, where they encountered knee-deep water. An FBI agent assisted Mike’s group to the exterior of the building by 9:45 AM.

As they exited the area and moved toward Broadway, Mike’s colleague David told him he saw fire in the South Tower. A police officer then yelled that everyone should run. “The building is coming down,” the officer shouted.

Sounding like both a freight train and a massive waterfall, the building came down. Mike, Roselle and the rest of their group were engulfed by dust.

Outside the Tower

As they continued their escape from danger, Roselle suddenly stopped at a stairway to the Fulton Street Subway station and guided Mike down the stairs. At the bottom of the steps, they encountered a woman who was panicked because she couldn’t see.  Mike told the woman to relax and had her follow him and Roselle, who led them both to safety.

After a day of terror and escaping from a multitude of dangerous environments and debris, Roselle, upon entering their downtown apartment, went straight for her favorite pull toy and brought it to Mike’s retired guide dog to engage in a robust tug of war.

More About Mike

Mike attended the University of California, Irvine graduating with honors and received a Master’s degree in physics; earned a secondary teaching credential from UC Irvine’s School of Teaching and Education. He enjoyed a successful 35-year sales career in high-tech before he embarked on his journey as an author and speaker.

After 9/11 Mike Hingson began receiving requests to speak to audiences about his experience on that day as well as to discuss his thoughts on life and dealing with change. Ironically, after 9/11 Mike lived five blocks from where A.J. lives in Vista, Calif. They didn’t know that until they met at the Summit in Colorado.

He’s the author of Thunder Dog: The Story of a Blind Man, A Guide Dog, And The Triumph of Trust At Ground Zero, which was a New York Times Bestseller.

In December 2013, Mike, along with Jeanette Hanscome, wrote and published a children’s book entitled Running With Roselle: How a Blind Boy and a Puppy Grew Up, Became Best Friends, and Together Survived On One Of America’s Darkest Days.

For more information on Mike, visit http://michaelhingson.com/

Mike, his guide dog Africa and A.J. at the 2017 National EMS Safety Summit in Denver, Colo.