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In the cool gray hours of the morning of Sept. 11, a young lawyer stirred in his bed on New York City’s Upper West Side. Abraham D. Piantnica — everyone calls him Avi — a 34-year-old associate with Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, rose and did what he usually does: He showered and shaved, made a cup of coffee, said his morning prayer, the shacharis, chose his favorite blue suit to wear, read the paper. But then — in what became the blur of that horrible day — Piantnica the mild-mannered lawyer and volunteer medic ministered to countless wounded at the World Trade Center. He saw people in business suits like his own leap from skyscraper windows, choosing death by flight over incineration. He saw human body parts in the swirl of dust and debris. And in the cruel hysteria of the first three hours — from 9 a.m. until noon — he was unable to phone his anguished wife, Sandy. He thought of her, and of his baby girl, Rachel. Two times, he made his peace with God — and ran through the streets for his life. Two times he returned to carnage. There were so many to help. “He’s not your typical trust and estate lawyer” — an understatement from Piantnica’s best friend, Mony Weschler, 35, who knew drama of his own that day. “People of his caliber — so highly educated, and working for a prestigious firm — you figure they don’t want to take time from their busy days to help people,” said Weschler of his friend Piantnica, a 1991 graduate of Columbia Law School, where he was a member of the Law Review. “But that’s what he does.” Piantnica and his best friend are medics with the Hatzolah Volunteer Ambulance Corporation, the citywide emergency medical service. Piantnica loves the law. But the Hatzolah, he said — “that’s my passion.” One day after the attack, Piantnica nursed smoke-injured eyes as he sat down to collect his thoughts in an e-mail to colleagues. Opening with the words, “This is just my story,” he wrote: “At approximately 8:30 a.m., I was driving to work in one of our emergency vehicles when I heard on our EMS radio that a plane had crashed into the WTC, and that all Hatzolah ambulances and personnel in all boroughs were requested to go down and assist in the rescue efforts. “I drove, lights and sirens blaring, following one of my ambulances … The first thing I saw was straight out of a movie — a huge gaping hole on top of one of the towers, with fire coming out of the sides … We drove further south, at which time we came across a group of policemen with injured patients. Some had burns, abrasions, broken bones … People were screaming and yelling. “We parked about two blocks from one of the towers, grabbed our equipment, and went to the entrance … The firemen asked that we go across the street and help the injured people rather than enter the building. Those guys probably saved our lives. I do not know if they made it out. “We heard a strange rumbling. I turned around and saw a massive ball of smoke and debris coming at us … People were screaming that the tower was collapsing … I started running, and perhaps screaming as well … I dashed into the side of a building and prayed hard. I actually thought, I may die … I am grateful that G-d was watching over me and my friends that day — “My first concern was getting out the trapped ambulance I had loaded with patients … I grabbed a fireman, and we were able to get them out after the smoke settled a bit … I heard on the radio that [another] ambulance was trapped with my friends on board. I tried to get officers to help, but I did not even know where to send them. The feeling of helplessness was horrible … One [Hatzolah medic], with a trembling voice, asked our dispatcher to call his wife and tell her that he said ‘Hear, oh Israel,’ the prayer one says if you know you will die. “My best friend [Weschler] had one of his ambulances nearly destroyed. It was burned, and the back windows knocked out — “It was about that time that I had to make the second run for my life … Once the rumbling began, we ran and again ducked into a building. I believe it was Tower 1 that was now coming down. I was even closer to Tower 1 than the previous tower that collapsed … Once the debris settled again, I took care of a policeman with asthma, a man with a cardiac history complaining of difficulty breathing, and a woman in shock. “We distributed masks to officers and firemen … Once we arrived at the hospital [Beth Israel], the doctors and nurses quickly took action and helped us … They hosed the ambulance, and we started to regroup to get back to the scene. Unfortunately, our ambulance died and we needed a boost … We cleaned inches of debris from our ambulance, and headed back to ground zero — “My best friend met me there. He told me he was pushed through a window. He was a bit shaken, but nevertheless ready with the rest of us to get back to help. “Rumors were flying about biological and chemical weapons … You have seen the pictures on TV and in the papers. The reality was worse. It was a crazy time. “Let us hope the worst is behind us, and let us pray for those who were injured or killed … Our hearts go out to the families … May G-d look after them.” LAW FIRM EVACUATION As Piantnica finished tapping out these words on his computer at Simpson Thacher, the firm’s building, at 425 Lexington Ave., was evacuated due to a telephoned bomb threat. For his part, Piantnica scuttled some 30 floors down the building stairwell to the street, where he had parked a Hatzolah vehicle nearby. He grabbed a medic jacket from the vehicle, and some first-aid equipment, and ran back into the building to help two women with minor injuries. In a postscript to his e-mail report, Piantnica added dryly, “Just another day in New York.” His wife, Sandy, 33, has learned to live with her husband’s passion. “The first five times I dated him, the phone rang and the next thing I knew he was in the ambulance driving away,” said Mrs. Piantnica. “I fell in love with him for the good person he is. He always looks out for the other guy.” “You don’t hear stories like this about trust and estate lawyers,” said Richard I. Beattie, chairman of Simpson Thacher’s executive committee. “Avi Piantnica goes about his life in a quiet and professional way. And then suddenly, he turns out to be this very courageous person. It’s incredible, and we’re very proud of him.” During the last few contemplative weeks, the high holy days for Piantnica, he said he has renewed understanding of what is elemental to his life: Sandy and Rachel, the rest of his family, Weschler and all his many friends. And one thing more. Piantnica, mild-mannered trust and estate lawyer, has put a certain task at the top of his personal to-do list: He needs to make a will.

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