Firefighter who survived 9/11 attacks finds joy after sorrow

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. – A firefighter who served more than two decades in New York is reflecting on his near death experience at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and his journey from sorrow to joy.

As many people marvel at how Clarence Singleton and other first responders summoned the courage to race to the site of such danger at the twin towers, he said the call to aid the helpless was louder than the threat of danger.

Clarence Singleton

Clarence Singleton

“It seemed as if it were an eternity,” Singleton remembered. “Looking out the window at the towers, both of them were still smoking.”

After 22 years of facing danger working for the New York Fire Department, those thoughts never leave Singleton`s mind and heart.

But Sept.  11, 2001, transformed the Midlothian man in a way he could have never imagined.

A photo of Singleton from Vietnam and his Purple Heart.

A photo of Singleton from Vietnam and his Purple Heart.

Singleton said that one day rivals his experience fighting in Vietnam where he earned a Purple Heart.

The attack 15 years ago left his heart heavy, his body in pain and his spirit broken.

While he was retired at the time of the attacks, Singleton did not hesitate to suit up and race toward the danger.

The World Trade Center ablaze on Sept. 11, 2001.

The World Trade Center ablaze on Sept. 11, 2001.

Singleton was fighting fires after at ground zero after the first tower fell when his life changed.

“We heard this loud bang, like something let go and so we just looked at each other. [I] didn`t look up, heard it again -- bang!” Singleton said. “So instinct told us the second tower was collapsing, so we ran. We bolted. It was every man for himself.”

Singleton only made it 30 feet as the second tower crumbled, he hit the ground with a terrible shoulder injury and was convinced death was certain.

“I was on my hands and knees waiting to die,” he said. “It was peaceful. It was calm. It was like, ‘I’m going to die.’ I was hunched up waiting for the big piece of metal to hit me.”

Singleton rescued from rubble.

Singleton rescued from rubble.

Rescuers found him covered in thick dust and rushed him to the hospital. But immediately after he was released, he returned to ground zero.

“Just taking it in and I saw a mound of rubble [and] was hoping our guys and other civilians were alive, but they were all gone,” he said.

Singleton covered in thick dust.

Singleton covered in thick dust.

Singleton’s feeling of security was also gone. On the 15th anniversary of the attacks, he still has lingering bouts of depression and PTSD, but said sharing his story has brought him some peace.

“I’m the author of a book, ‘The Heart of a Hero.’ That’s what this  all about, me sharing it, because  I feel as if that`s my purpose.”

Finding joy in life is also his purpose and finding a wife helped him do just that.

When it was time to choose a wedding date, separately Singleton and his then fiancée, Jean, both prayed and came up with the same day.

“I kept thinking about it and I said, ‘Why not?’” Singleton said. “Why not put something joyous in the place of something that was horrific. So on the 11th anniversary of the collapse we were married. It was 11 o’clock in the morning on September 11th. And her birthday is September 11th.”

Singleton and his wife, Jean.

Singleton and his wife, Jean.

That happiness is not overshadowed by the pain of the past, but is helping the brave man move forward one day at a time.

Like many other first responders, Singleton said he would do it all over again, without hesitation.

The dust covered boots Singleton he wore 15 years ago to the day sit inside a memorial at his home as a heart-wrenching reminder.

The dust covered boots Singleton he wore 15 years ago to the day sit inside a memorial at his home as a heart-wrenching reminder.