Remembering Ronald Bucca, 'The Flying Fireman' | 9/11: 20 Years Later

Eve Bucca said her late husband, Ronald Bucca, always knew the terrorists would come back. "He has said for years, and he was very verbal about it," she said. "He felt like we would always have an attack in New York and he wanted to minimize the loss of life."

When the planes hit on Sept. 11, 2001, she said there was no doubt what Ronald, who was a New York City fire marshal, was going to do. "He said to me, 'I'm going into that building,'" Eve said. "I knew exactly what was in his mind."

But to understand just how Bucca ended up inside the south tower trying to rescue people, you have to understand what happened to him back in 1986.

As a young firefighter, Bucca responded to a two-alarm fire on the Upper West Side. But he fell five stories to the ground while trying to rescue an FDNY lieutenant who was trapped in an apartment building.

Doctors at the hospital where he was taken said it was simply a miracle he survived. He suffered a broken back but eventually made a full recovery.

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"I think we've used a lifetime's worth of luck in that short span of time," Eve said in an interview that aired on FOX 5 all those years ago. "We used all the luck we ever had."

In a new interview, Eve told me what her husband said to her while he was on the stretcher.

"Lying on the stretcher going into the MRI, and him saying to me, 'I'm going to go back to Rescue within a year,'" she said, referring to his unit, Rescue Company 1.

Bucca earned the nickname "The Flying Fireman" for the fall and transformed his career.

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He combined his time in the Army as a Special Forces Green Beret and military intelligence with years in the fire department and was assigned to the FDNY Terrorist Task Force.

"He would go to firehouses and talk to them about 'this is what you look for, this is who you contact,'" Eve said.

He carried field guides with him to show fellow firefighters how to respond if there was an attack.

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Eventually, Bucca was promoted to fire marshal, which brings us back to Sept. 11, 2001.

"They actually made it up," Eve said, "and were assisting the civilians there."

Radio transmissions show Bucca linked up with FDNY Battalion Chief Orio Palmer. Their team somehow made it all the way up to the 78th floor of the 2 World Trade Center, which was the so-called crash zone — the section where United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the building. 

It was higher than any other known first responders. Palmer and Bucca and their team never made it out. Bucca's remains were recovered six weeks later.

"When he was recovered, his turnout coat was found on a civilian next to a group of civilians by a staircase," Eve said.

She added that all the pockets of that coat, where he kept all his supplies, were empty.

"I realized he used everything he had to help with the civilians," Eve said.

In the two decades since then, the family established a nonprofit called StandFast Alliance and partnered with organizations like Friends of Firefighters. The organization's goal is to help military members and first responders be better prepared physically and mentally for disaster — like Ronald was.

"We're just continuing Ron's work," Eve said. "We're still looking out for his family and his extended family."


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