For almost 10 years, NYPD Officer Carol Paukner worked around and inside the World Trade Center patrolling the NYC subway lines that were below the buildings on the concourse level. She knew the area well and a lot of the people who worked there. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Carol and her partner, Tracy Donahoo, a rookie at the time, were assigned to the Broadway/Nassau station one block from the World Trade Center when Carol received a call about “unknown conditions” at the Twin Towers.
They came up out of the subway and saw the street covered with debris. A woman pointed up and that was when they saw the back end of a plane sticking out of the North Tower with the nose buried in the building. Carol, the second officer to respond on 9/11, got on her radio and confirmed, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center.”
In the chaos that ensued, Carol and Tracy ran to the South Tower and immediately started to evacuate people to safety, but they eventually got separated from one another. There were objects flying through the air, people desperately jumping to their deaths from the North Tower and panic on the ground. Carol recalls encountering an FBI agent who warned her and the other first responders who were close by, “There are more planes coming. We’re under attack. You’re going to die if you stay here.” Carol’s response, like the response of so many other women and men that day, was simple, yet resolute, “We’re not leaving.”
Carol Paukner’s poignant words are the title of a new book written by Benjamin J. Luft, M.D., the Edmund D. Pellegrino Professor of Medicine at SUNY Stony Brook and founder of the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. We’re Not Leaving is a compilation of powerful first-person narratives told from the vantage point of World Trade Center disaster workers – police officers, firefighters, construction workers, and other volunteers at the site – ordinary people who responded to disaster and devastation in extraordinary ways. The deeply personal stories, which include Carol Paukner’s firsthand account, focus on personal strength and renewal in the ten years since September 11, 2001.
Carol Paukner did not leave on 9/11. Her priority was saving the lives of others. She continued to help evacuate as many people as she could even after she, herself, sustained a number of serious injuries – a torn rotator cuff and knee, her neck and foot were injured and her corneas were burned (she later developed a lung infection). While everyone she knew who worked in that area was killed, Carol miraculously survived. Despite being thrown through a glass window from the force of a falling metal object and later that morning, being propelled through an exit door of the South Tower and subsequently buried under rubble, Carol went right back to work in the days following 9/11. She retired from the NYPD a few years later due to the injuries she sustained in her rescue efforts. Today, Carol still suffers multiple 9/11 related health issues, but has an incredibly inspiring perspective on life. We encourage you to read her story of bravery, self-sacrifice and healing in Dr. Luft’s We’re Not Leaving.