By Reuven Blau New York Daily News
Joseph Baccellieri raced into the flooded, jet fuel-soaked lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
“I saw people who needed help,” Baccellieri recalled, days before the anniversary of the horror of 9/11.
Baccellieri, a court officer chief who ran to the scene from the training academy building three blocks away, began his trek up.
Baccellieri and two colleagues searched for people floor by floor and helped firefighters carry their equipment.
They reached the 51st floor.
That’s when the lights began to flash and the floor started to violently shake.
He later discovered that’s when the South Tower crumbled.
On their way down, they stopped on the 19th floor, where a group of firefighters had gathered in the darkened stairwell.
“They told us they were only going to stay inside a little while longer,” he recalled.
They were never seen alive again.
A father of six, Baccellieri said the last 12 years have been a challenge.
“You’re torn because you really don’t want to remember it, but you have an obligation to remember because we lost so many good people on that day,” he said.
The list of fallen first responders includes three court officers: Thomas Jurgens, W. Harry Thompson and Mitchel Wallace.
The fallen court cops — among the first to arrive on 9/11 — are being lauded in a memorial service Wednesday morning on the stairs outside 100 Centre St.
Stationed blocks away, they voluntarily raced to the burning towers in a van from the Courthouse on Centre St.
After the first plane hit the North Tower, Wallace, who was 34, grabbed his medical bag and ran from the Canal St. subway stop to the burning tower. He called his fiancé, Noreen McDonough, once he was at the scene.
As sirens blared in the background, McDonough urged him to run to safety himself, to no avail.
Wallace, a former paramedic, helped a woman whose legs were badly burnt after someone had helped carry her down 80 flights of stairs.
He wrapped Mary Jos’ legs in gauze and ran inside the South Tower looking for others to help.
He never made it out.
Baccellieri and several other court officers were more fortunate.
But like many first responders who spent time at the site they are battling their own demons.
“I’ve been diagnosed with asthma and am dealing with other medical issues,” he said.
But he has done his best to move on, despite driving past the site every day on his way to work, where he trains all the new recruits.
“I don’t want it to define me,” he said. “I don’t consider myself a hero. I consider myself someone who tried to help other human beings.”
He needs no reminders how fortunate he was to survive.
Wallace’s remains were never recovered.
But, incredibly, his initialed gold ring was found five years later. His mother, Rita, keeps it in a small glass.
“It is a stark reminder of the human toll that these horrific attacks took on all of us,” Baccellieri said.