From left, fire Capts. Gary Lum of Dispatch, John Bowers of Pawaa Station and Richard Soo with Public Affairs talked the morning of Sept. 11, discussing what preparations to make in response to the World Trade Center attacks.

Firefighters share action
after Sept. 11 attacks

Remembering those who died

By Nelson Daranciang

Capt. John Bowers had just returned to the Pawaa Fire Station from an alarm in Waikiki. It was about 3 a.m. on Sept. 11. His engineer was in the kitchen watching television.

"I walked out to get a drink of water," Bowers said, "and he said, 'Captain, you gotta come in and watch this.'"

The North Tower of the World Trade Center was on fire. It was an amazing fire to watch, Bowers thought, as he and his crew talked about how they would attack it.

He wanted to share the experience with other firefighters, so he called the Honolulu Fire Department's alarm bureau.

We Remember

"I got Gary Lum on the phone," Bowers said. "And I told him, 'Hey, Gary, I don't know what you're doing, but if you're not watching TV, why don't you turn it on?"

Capt. Lum was on duty as the commander of the Fire Communications Center.

Lum said he turned on the television, saw the tower on fire, then went back to what he was doing.

"I didn't think too much of it because I remember from the 1950s, a small airplane hit the Empire State Building," Lum said. "And I thought it was another one of those incidents, it was just a small plane."

He did not realize that a commercial airliner had struck the tower until a retired firefighter called about 10 minutes later.

"Initially, it was utter disbelief," Lum said. "And then after the first tower collapsed, you kind of got like a sick feeling in your stomach because the initial report was 50,000 to 100,000 people dead in the tower."

Normally, Lum would notify his battalion chief, but he was on the mainland attending a class. So he called Capt. Richard Soo, the department's public information officer, for advice on whether to wake up Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi.

"We got SOPs (standard operating procedures) for all kinds of things, but not for this kind of incident," Lum said.

Lum told Soo to take a look at the TV reports and to call him back.

"When I first looked at what was going on, I thought it was something out of a Steven Spielberg movie," Soo said.

And when he saw that another commercial airliner had struck the Pentagon, he thought it might be part of a nationwide attack that would eventually include Honolulu, so he advised Lum to wake Leonardi. That was about 3:30 a.m.

Leonardi told Lum to inform all assistant chiefs and deputy chiefs to meet at the Fire Communications Center. He also told Lum to announce what was happening to all the fire stations over the department's closed-circuit system.

That was about 4 a.m.

A little later, Leonardi told Lum to inform all the executive-level chiefs that the meeting would be in the city's emergency operations center instead.

Mayor Jeremy Harris, who had been watching TV news coverage of the attacks, called Leonardi and Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue to tell them he was activating the emergency operations center.

After calling Lum, Bowers continued to watch the coverage with a sense of helplessness.

"Part of it is, you want to go help those firefighters," he said. "And part of it is, you want to go and learn, too. Something of this magnitude would be awesome to work just for the fact that all this knowledge you can gain from it."

Lum stayed five hours past his shift to activate the department's alternate alarm bureau at the Central Fire Station.

He, too, continued to watch the television coverage of the terrorist attacks even after he went home for the day, all the while knowing it was something he would never forget.

"I'll always remember it," Lum said. "You remember when JFK was assassinated. You remember exactly what you were doing; at the time, I did, too. Same thing. I'm going to remember exactly what I was doing."


Remembering those who died

More than 3,000 people died in the Sept. 11 attacks, including a handful of people with ties to Hawaii. They were mothers, sons, sisters, husbands, high school classmates and, whether we knew them, their deaths have touched us. During the next few days, the Star-Bulletin will give you a glimpse into their lives. Some of these "Portraits of Grief" originally were published in the New York Times.


Adventurer hoped he’d be
around for diabetes cure

Michael Collins skied and snowboarded down mountains all over the world. He went rock climbing in Japan. He rode a mountain bike, hard, on the back roads of Hawaii. Oh, and he had lived with diabetes since childhood, injecting himself with insulin three times a day.

"We would be on lift lines, and he would be checking his blood, and if he needed a shot, he would give it to himself right there," said Nina Collins, his sister-in-law.

Collins, 38, a manager with eSpeed who lived in Montclair, N.J., was even a little cavalier about his disease when he was younger, going out with the guys for beers, eating junk food. But all that changed 11 years ago when he met his wife, Lissa, in Lake Placid, N.Y.

"He wanted to be healthy for her," said Rich Collins, his older brother. "These two were soul mates."

Diabetes or not, Lissa and Michael Collins meant to grow old together.

"He would say, 'Maybe I'll be around when they cure this thing,'" she said. "We had to just keep faith."

Now, she is grateful for the time they had.

"I was the luckiest girl, that I could spend 11 years with him. Everyone says that I was the best thing for him, but he was the best thing for me. He was more my life support than I was his."

Collins' wife, Lissa Lee Collins, is a 1977 Leilehua High School graduate.

New York Times


Acclaimed chef had planned
to open own pastry shop

There can be no doubt that Heather Ho, the award-winning pastry chef at the Windows on the World Restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, had a sweet tooth.

"We would go to a restaurant, and she would order only the desserts," said Daniel Roorda, her boyfriend for the last two years. "But she was petite. She ate more than I did and never gained a pound. I don't know how she did it. I think it's that her energy level was so high."

High enough to have propelled Ho, 32, from Honolulu, her hometown, to premier New York restaurants that included Jean Georges, Gramercy Tavern and Clementine, and Boulevard in San Francisco.

She came to Windows in June 2001, but her dream was to open her own pastry shop, said Michael Lomonaco, the restaurant's executive chef.

"In mid-August she gave me notice but offered to stay until we could find a replacement."

Heather Ho was a 1987 Punahou School graduate.

New York Times

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