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An exterior view of the NYC Fire Museum.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

A powerful new 9/11 exhibit is now on view at the NYC Fire Museum

Hear first-hand stories from the firefighters who served that day.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan

Quotes from firefighters, photos illustrating heroic moments, a video interview with a retired firefighter and a wall of victims' names comprise a new exhibit called "Recovery and Reflection, Celebrating the 9/11 Tribute Museum" at the New York City Fire Museum.

"Recovery and Reflection" draws from the collection of the now-shuttered 9/11 Tribute Museum, which closed last year amid pandemic-related financial and attendance difficulties. The exhibit honoring the FDNY and the Tribute Museum is on view through October 15 at the NYC Fire Museum in Lower Manhattan's Hudson Square neighborhood. 

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"Our curators and staff really worked so hard on pulling out those very meaningful words from people that were directly affected. And so we were thrilled to see that continue to be able to be shared with people because it really makes an impression on visitors," Jennifer Adams, CEO and co-founder of the 9/11 Tribute Museum told Time Out. "I hope lots of people are able to come to the Fire Museum now and really hear and see the story."

A photograph and quotes as part of the exhibit.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

After the museum closed, staff preserved some of the exhibit elements, she added. When the Fire Museum reached out to ask if any there were any items they could use, "we were so thrilled," Adams said. 

The exhibition features 15 panels that were previously on display at the 9/11 Tribute Museum, which was founded by the September 11th Families' Association and opened in 2006. Its content is now available online. A founder of the Tribute Museum, Adams had previously worked in World Trade 1 and lost her dear friend Meredith Lynn Whalen on that day. 

I hope lots of people are able to come to the Fire Museum now and really hear and see the story. 

A former docent for the 9/11 Tribute Museum, Peter Bitwinski worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and was in Tower 1 when the plane hit. After feeling the impact of the plane striking the building 20 floors above him, he remembers wandering around the office in confusion. "The next two minutes were the longest of my life," he said. 

He knew his friend who was paralyzed and used a wheelchair would need help evacuating, so he worked with a group of coworkers to help the friend evacuate down more than 60 flights of stairs.

Bitwinski, who also survived the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, shared his 9/11 story through tours at the museum. 

"For me, it was a bunch of good things, including healing from 9/11," he said. "I was happy to know that they got some of our panels and photos and set up this exhibit. That makes me feel good because as a gallery guide, I used to point out all those things to people walking through. To know that there's still a life to that and it's still something that's valuable makes me feel good."

Even though the museum has closed, he still believes in the power of sharing his story. 

"If I'm able to, I want to contribute to sharing what I can about my life working in World Trade Center and surviving," Bitwinksi told Time Out. 

A wall of victims' names.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out | A wall of victims' names.

The 9/11 Tribute Museum was so important because it provided a space for first-person stories, from office workers to family members of victims to firefighters, Jennifer Brown, director of the New York City Fire Museum, explained.

For her, one piece of the exhibition that stands out is a video, which spotlights retired firefighter Bill Spade, who served with the FDNY from January 1985 to March 2003. Spade is the only firefighter from Rescue 5 who made it home on September 11. After 9/11, he served as a Tribute Museum docent.

"Also, it's so meaningful to have the panels and many quotes from young FDNY leadership at that time, which is important to memorialize what they were thinking," Brown said, adding that some went on to become commissioners in the department.  

A lot of close friends were lost that day. Each one of them is a heartbreaking, compelling, gut-wrenching story about where they were, what happened.

One quote from a firefighter named Liam Flaherty reads: "A lot of close friends were lost that day. Each one of them is a heartbreaking, compelling, gut-wrenching story about where they were, what happened ... I could find no better counseling service than the firehouse kitchen. Any problem you have, you can talk it through, we were grieving together." 

The permanent memorial to 9/11 at the fire museum.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out | The museum's permanent 9/11 memorial.

As the 22nd anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks approaches, the temporary exhibition pairs with the Fire Museum's permanent 9/11 Memorial Room. It's the first permanent space dedicated to the 343 members of the FDNY who lost their lives on 9/11. The memorial includes pictures of the firefighters lost in the attacks, a timeline chronicling the day's events, rescue tools used and items recovered from the Ground Zero recovery effort.

To mark 9/11 this year, the New York City Fire Museum will host a commemorative wreath-laying ceremony the memorial room on Monday, September 11, 2023, at 11:30am. The program will include remarks from FDNY leadership and music. 

Find the museum at 278 Spring Street between Varick and Hudson Streets, in the former quarters of the FDNY's Engine Company No. 30, a renovated 1904 firehouse. It's open Wednesdays through Sundays, 10am to 5pm. Adult admission costs $15/adult and $6/child.

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