â€œWe werenâ€™t in a bad spot. I did not feel heat at all,â€ he said Tuesday.
With 18 years of firefighting experience, Oâ€™Donnell said he did not feel unsafe inside the building.
â€œNot once. We read the building, we read the smoke coming out of the building,â€ he continued.
The hose line was almost set when he heard a rumble. Seconds later, he recalled being trapped under heavy debris, screaming his partnerâ€™s name.
â€œI take the flashlight off my helmet that was given to me by my family, and I started to look around. Jamie’s not visible. Jamie’s reflectors off his coat aren’t visible, his boots aren’t visible,â€ Oâ€™Donnell said. â€œI would have taken anything.â€
He described banging on the roof that had collapsed around him, hoping someone on the outside might be able to hear him.
â€œThe radio is going ballistic. Somebody is screaming, â€˜We have a collapse!â€™ Somebody is screaming, ‘We have a mayday,’â€ he said.
For a second, everything stood still. Oâ€™Donnell said he thought about his family.
â€œIâ€™m lying here in what could be the spot they come and find me later. I was pretty nervous, started getting a little anxiety,â€ he described. â€œEventually, I was able to calm down. It was probably only a brief second, because the mind works so fast. It was that moment of sheer terror.â€
But Oâ€™Donnell had to make a choice for his pregnant wife, their unborn child and their 3-year-old daughter.
â€œI had to go. I had to find a way, I had to die trying,â€ Oâ€™Donnell continued, describing his thought process. â€œI would have stayed with Jamie. I would have done anything to get him out. Now that I can’t find him, maybe he’s out, maybe I’m the last one in the building.â€