Local man who helped on 9/11 gets to carry Olympic torch

Local man who helped on 9/11
gets to carry Olympic torch

Dennis Fitzpatrick is a Burger King Corp. worker and Old Bridge resident

By sue m. morgan

Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — Even though he carried the torch for only a fifth of a mile, Dennis Fitzpatrick says that traveling all the way to Miami, Fla., in early December to participate in the Olympic torch relay was worth the trip.

Fitzpatrick, 45, a township resident and a facilities manager for the Burger King Corp., held the torch as it passed through Miami Dec. 8. He was one of six employees chosen by the Miami-based fast food giant due to his heroic efforts in lower Manhattan Sept. 11 following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

Fitzpatrick and his crew offered the inside of Burger King’s Maiden Lane location as a safe haven to those running from the wreckage. They pulled people running from the collapsed towers inside the restaurant, offered them water to drink, and allowed them to wash up.

"I had no fear. I was not afraid for my life," he added. "We just did what had to be done."

Fitzpatrick, employed by Burger King for six years, manages a maintenance team that works in Burger King locations from New York to Virginia.

Just after 8:40 a.m. Sept. 11, Fitzpatrick and his crew were installing a new kitchen unit at the Maiden Lane location, which is approximately two blocks away from the former site of the twin towers. It was there that they first heard about a commercial airliner crashing into the north tower. At that time, Fitzpatrick and his crew speculated that the plane crash was accidental.

As they were packing up their tools approximately 20 minutes later, they heard that the south tower had also been hit by a commercial jet plane. At that point, Fitzpatrick said, customers coming into the restaurant reported the circulating rumors that the crashes were part of a terrorist attack on New York City.

Having finished the job on Maiden Lane, Fitzpatrick and his crew decided to go to the company’s location at Liberty and Church streets across from the burning twin towers to check on the safety of company employees there.

However, once Fitzpatrick and his team, riding in a company van, got close to Liberty Street, they were turned away by police who had evacuated the area. They returned to the Maiden Lane location.

Upon their return, the south tower collapsed, sending dust and smoke clouds two blocks away.

"If you held your hand out in front of you, you couldn’t even see it," Fitzpatrick said. "It was totally dark for 15 or 20 minutes."

At that point, Fitzpatrick and his crew began pulling people into the restaurant from the street. Once inside, they tried to assist by allowing them to wash up and giving them water.

As the commotion was dying down, approximately half an hour later, the north tower collapsed, spreading more smoke, dust and debris for blocks.

Fitzpatrick and other employees went outside to look for people running from the debris.

"We went outside and yelled, ‘Does anyone out here need help?’ " Fitzpatrick said.

Again the employees pulled strangers into the restaurant to get them out of harm’s way. They also distributed 30 to 40 dust masks that as maintenance workers they kept in supply.

The following day, Fitzpatrick headed to Jersey City where the company had set up a mobile kitchen unit at an American Red Cross center. With the help of that city’s water department and fire company, Fitzpatrick was able to establish a water hook-up; once completed, he went to work.

"In the first five hours, over 2,500 burgers were cooked and sent away," Fitzpatrick said. He and other employees, including high-level managers, finished cooking and wrapping, and the burgers were taken away by Red Cross workers who delivered them by ferry and then by foot to rescue workers at ground zero.

"The Red Cross would come to us and say, ‘We need 200 hamburgers in 20 minutes,’ " Fitzpatrick said.

The Burger King Corp., which has helped the Red Cross raise donations for the Sept. 11 fund, sought out employees who had played a significant role in assisting those affected by the attacks. Having heard of Fitzpatrick’s leadership and actions, the company chose him as one of their corporate representatives to carry the torch in Miami.

Fitzpatrick, his wife Diane, and daughters Danielle, 15, and Katlyn, 12, flew to Miami in December, courtesy of the Coca-Cola Co., a sponsor of the 2002 Olympics.

He subsequently carried the torch for one-fifth of a mile on Miami’s 37th Street.

As a souvenir of his trip, Fitzpatrick was able to keep the torch he carried.