Hero of 9/11
He's a proud maintenance worker for NYU now, but for Ivan Almenares, every day carries a reminder of his last job. Ten years ago, Almenares was working for ABM Industries keeping 1 World Trade Center clean. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was making a trip down to the basement to get Windex and rags when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the tower. "I didn't know it was a plane. I thought it was a bomb," said Almenares, now 36. He and a co-worker ran out to see what was happening. "As soon as we came out of the office, we saw a guy burned?his face, his hands." The burning man had been waiting for the elevator when it crashed on the basement level, exploding in "a fireball," Almenares said. Through air so thick they couldn't see and could hardly breathe, Almenares and his colleague carried the burning man to safety. It took them nearly 20 minutes. Miraculously, when they reached the paramedics, the man was still alive?badly burned and in shock, but alive. Just as the men got out of the collapsing first tower, the second plane hit, only a block away. As the second tower came down around him, Almenares suffered devastating back injuries that would leave him disabled and out of work for the next two and a half years. The pain stays with him even now, accompanying him on his daily duties at NYU. The Nicaraguan-born Almenares is the shop steward for SEIU 32BJ at NYU. He's the "eyes and ears of the union," representing his coworkers' interests and communicating their needs to the management. An active member of the union for 19 years, Almenares has traveled across the country to countless rallies and meetings, and appeared on NY1 and CNN to campaign for workers' rights. Last year, Almenares' dedication to the job won him an award from NYU Public Safety. Almenares' pride in his work is matched only by his devotion to his kids: Ivan, 15, and Ivana, 9, who was born one month to the day after the 9/11 attacks. As his daughter approaches her 10th birthday, Almenares is careful to explain to her what happened on that day just before she was born, and how different her life could have been. He told her, "If I had died, your country would've taken care of you." Almenares got choked up as he relayed Ivana's response: "Dad, there's nothing they could have done for me?not enough money in the world. I'm just glad you're alive."
After Ivan Almenares helped rescue a man on 9/11, he was badly injured from the collapsing Twin Towers and was unable to work for a two and a half years. Photo by Daniel S. Burnstein