By Bill Parry
After 34 years on the job, Lt. David Lim decided it was time for the final roll call last Thursday at LaGuardia Airport and retirement from the Port Authority Police Department.
He was the only police officer among the 16 survivors rescued from the rubble of the North Tower on 9/11.
“We did everything we could during the greatest rescue in American history,” Lim said. “Of course, everyone talks about the nearly 3,000 we lost that day, but I always talk of the thousands we saved, the thousands that made it out of those buildings alive.”
Lim was partners with Sirius, a bomb-detecting yellow Labrador retriever, on that morning. After placing Sirius in a basement kennel, he raced up to the 34th floor when he heard the South Tower collapse.
Lim began moving people down Stairwell B at a faster pace, fearing the building would suffer the same fate. When he arrived on the fifth floor, he joined firefighters from Ladder Co. 6 helping Josephine Harris, a grandmother who had become exhausted after descending from the 77th floor.
“I had just grabbed one of her arms when it happened,” Lim said. “It was a horrible windstorm with the sound of an onrushing train as a hundred floors pancaked above me. The compression of air felt like a hurricane. I thought I was dead when it was over. I coughed out dust and realized dead men don’t cough.”
Lim, 12 firefighters and three civilians had survived the collapse as the shell of Stairwell B held up under the debris of 110 floors. Lim realized he still had his cellphone and began calling for help, and five hours later they were found by Ladder Co. 43.
Lim was said to have rescued hundreds of civilians that day but he was haunted by the loss of Sirius in the collapse.
“There were no bombs and he wasn’t a rescue dog, so I put him in the kennel before going up,” he said. “My dog was killed that day, I should say murdered. My dog was murdered that day.”
Sirius was pulled from the pile and given a hero’s removal four months later.
“Everything came to a stop, everyone saluted as they brought my dog out with an American flag over the body bag,” he said.
Lim already had 22 years of service with the PAPD but did not give retirement a thought.
“I wasn’t going to let some knucklehead in Afghanistan dictate to me when I was going to retire. Even after we killed him I stayed on, but now it’s time to pass the torch to the next generation,” he said.
Lim knew he wanted to be a cop when he grew up in Far Rockaway. His parents, immigrants from China, had a family-run restaurant on Beach 20th Street.
“I started learning on my very first day at the academy and I never stopped learning throughout those 34 years. I hope I’ve done a good job passing it all to the next generation of officers,” he said.
Lim became an iconic figure in the Asian community in the years since 9/11.
“It was brought to my attention that I was the only Asian police officer to survive that day. I knew I had become an influence when a young man heard a speech I gave in San Francisco and joined the police department,” he said.
More than 30,000 people attended an appearance Lim made at an Asian cultural festival in Denver, Colorado.
Lim, his wife and two children have not made long-range plans for his retirement, but he knows how they will spend the summer.
“We’re going to follow our [New York] Mets around the country,” he said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.