CHESTER – Will Jimeno had to retire on Thursday, Dec. 2, from a job he loved as a Port Authority Police Officer because of wounds suffered during the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Jimeno was under the rubble for 13 hours and was one of the last people saved that day. He suffered his wounds, not because he was fighting the enemy, but because he was doing what he feels is the job of every good police officer: he was trying to help people.
Jimeno was born in Barranquilla, Columbia, and moved with his parents to this country when he was 2. They settled in Hackensack, where he attended a Catholic elementary school and public high school.
He married his wife, Alison, in 1995 and they moved to a home on Cedar Tree Lane in Chester about six months ago because he said it is a quiet, patriotic community. The couple has two children, Bianca, 7, and Olivia, 3.
Jimeno joined the. Navy in 1986 and was a gunner’s mate when his enlistment ended at the time of the first U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1990.
But he always wanted to be a police officer, and when he got out of the service, he went to Bergen Community College in Paramus and a got an associate’s degree in criminal justice.
He worked for security firms and moved up into management but he wasn’t happy. He wanted to be a cop, and he took the test for the Port Authority Police Department.
“Getting on with the Port Authority is akin to winning a lottery,” said Jimeno. “There are 15,000 people who take the tests.”
He passed his test in 1998, but it wasn’t until August 2000, that he went for training at the N.J. State Police Training Academy in Sea Girt.
Port Authority police have jurisdiction in two states, and they are cross-trained with firefighting and emergency rescue techniques because of their varied duties, Jimeno said.
“That’s why the training is so long,” Jimeno said.
Bus Terminal Assignment
When he finished training in January 2001, he was assigned to the Port Authority bus terminal, which covers two city blocks in Manhattan at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue.
As a young cop, he wanted action and the beat supplied it. He was involved with a sniper, with shootings and stabbings.
But he said the first day that he felt he was a cop was when he helped a woman who lost her purse and couldn’t speak English get on the right bus.
“I speak two languages so I could help her, and the hug she gave me was special,” Jimeno said.
He was on the job on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
“We saw the plane fly over. We saw a large shadow and wondered why it was flying so low. And then it hit. We knew it was terrorists right away. There is too much technology on board those planes to allow that to happen,” he said.
“I went to a phone and called Alison (his wife) and told her the world trade center took a hit and that I was OK,” he said.
“About 20 or 22 of us got on board a bus that was commandeered and we went to the world trade center,” Jimeno said.
“I always wondered how would I respond when I got the call that puts your life on the life. It’s about protecting and serving and I wondered how I would do,” he said.
“We went down there very quickly and got to Barclay and Broadway, about a block away, and got off the bus,” he said.
Second Tower Struck
While they were traveling, the second tower was hit, but they did not know that, he said.
“When we got off the bus, someone said, “Look, they are jumping,” and people were jumping out of windows, he said.
Some officers starting crying.
“We felt helpless,” Jimeno said.
Port Authority Sgt. John McLoughlin arrived on the scene and asked for volunteers.
“I didn’t know where we were going or what we were going to do, but I knew the sergeant, I had been on a sniper call with him, and I would follow him anywhere. So I volunteered,” Jimeno said.
McLoughlin wanted officers who knew how to use Scott air packs, which are breathing apparatus.
“So myself, Antonio Rodrigues, and Dominic Pezzulo volunteered. These were guys who were fathers with two kids and we got some equipment and followed the sergeant into Building Five,” he said.
“Before going in, the sergeant told us to take our hats, memo books, and our batons and put them into a Suburban (parked) on Church Street. And we did that,” he said.
“People were being herded out of Building Two, and then the Suburban took a bit hit, a chunk of concrete fell on its roof.”
“We got back to the police desk, and hooked up with officer Chris Amoroso, who became part of our team,” he said.
“Around this time, another officer, Bruce Reynolds, came up to me as people were jumping out of buildings, and said “What a mess.” Every time you heard an explosion it was a human being,” Jimeno said.
Reynolds died that day and is buried in Chester, at Pleasant Hill Cemetery, “because he wanted to be somewhere very pretty,” Jimeno said.
“Going back to Tower One, Antonio Rodrigues, who we called A-Rod, switches spots with me and we head in,” Jimeno said.
“Behind us, Tower Two exploded, and Sgt. McLoughlin thought it was a car bomb and told us to run to the freight elevator.
“We didn’t know what to think but nobody panicked or got hysterical. There was a sense that you got to keep you head or you won’t make it.”
Then the tower collapsed.
“I was pinned. Dominic freed himself and tried to free me but I was buried too deep. Then Tower One came down, and a large chunk of concrete hit Dominic,” Jimeno said.
It was a fatal blow.
“As Dominic was passing, he fired his weapon into a hole to notify someone we were there,” he said.
“Then fireballs started coming into the hole,” Jimeno said.
The bullets in Pezzulo’s gun started to go off, maybe 15 rounds ricocheted near Jimeno’s head. And there was fire near his arm.
“It was then I made my peace with God,” said Jimeno. “I told God I got no complaints.”
Sgt. McLoughlin was also alive and pinned under the ruble. But McLoughlin had a working radio.
Jimeno told the sergeant that he wanted his wife to name his unborn girl Olivia. Jimeno and his wife had a dispute over what to name her, and Jimeno wanted his wife to know that he agreed with her name for the child.
Olivia is a healthy 3-year old now, born two months later on her father’s birthday.
Sometime during the ordeal, someone came by and heard Jimeno and McLoughlin buried in the rubble, but that person went away without getting help.
Jimeno said he was angry about that. He wondered what kind of person could do that. Now he believes that the person could have been killed, or just got lost.
Under the rubble, he was incredibly thirsty. His lips were caked with concrete dust. He was starting to give up hope.
Then he had a vision he believes was Jesus. He saw a beautiful field with a man in a robe, like a Franciscan monk would wear, coming toward him, carrying a jug of water. He could not see the man’s face, but Jimeno knew it was Jesus.
“When I awoke, I knew we were going to make it. We were going to get out of there. I was no longer thirsty either,” he said.
Jimeno was rescued after 13 hours, and McLoughlin was rescued after 22 hours under the ruble. But neither man had a broken bone, but both suffered extensive soft tissue damage to their legs.
“The doctors tells us if we had broken bones, we would have died from a blood clot or something,” Jimeno said.
Jimeno underwent eight operations in seven days at Bellvue Hospital in Manhattan. At one point during the rescue, there was a discussion about amputating his legs to get him out quicker, but they were able to save both he and Sgt. McLoughlin intact.
He still walks with a limp and still undergoes physical therapy. But he jokes with his little Olivia.
“Who’s a cop?” he asks her.
“You are,” she says.
On his wall in his basement, he has cherished photos. A visitor passes by one of Jimeno with President George W. Bush, but Jimeno wants to focus on the pictures of the Port Authority officers who died that day, including Chris Amoroso, Pezzulo and A-Rod.
“That’s the largest loss of life of any police department in the history of the country,” he said. “The NYPD (New York City Police Department) lost 23 that day. We lost 37.”
He looks over the pictures and counts 18 names he knows are from New Jersey.
“Don’t quote me on that, there may be more. I just don’t know all the other guys,” he said.
Included in the dead is Port Authority Officer Gregg Froehner, of Chester, who is also buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery.
“I didn’t know him, but there’s a monument to him there, and kids should read about these guys,” Jimeno said. “Guys who gave their lives to help others.”
But the picture he treasures most is the one he carries in a special place in his wallet, where it won’t get folded.
It is of a young, burly, good-looking police officer helping two women leave the world trade center area.
“That’s Chris Amoroso. Look at him,” Jimeno said. “He’s bleeding from the forehead. He got hit with debris. And he’s still helping people. That’s what it is all about.”