Captain Fuentes was trapped for more than two hours in the rubble of Sept. 11, 2001, and though he was pulled out alive he says in many ways he never left.
"I want to tell them how wonderful these people are that died. They did walk in our midst. They made conscious decisions to stay there, to assist their fellow man," Captain Al Fuentes, retired NYC firefighter, said.
Ten years later, Fuentes is still haunted. Then a New York Fire Department captain, he arrived at Ground Zero as the second tower was struck.
"Out of instinct I started reciting the Hail Mary," Fuentes said. "And I well remember thinking, 'I ain't getting out of here.'"
When the second tower collapsed, Fuentes was trapped. He suffered near-fatal injuries to his head, lungs, and ribs, but managed to answer his radio after two hours in the rubble.
Dispatcher: All units, stand by. Calling Captain Fuentes. Is this Captain Fuentes?
Dispatcher: All right, we have help on the way to you, Cap. We believe you are in the west side of the number one World Trade Center. In front of the collapse zone. Is that correct?
Fuentes: In the collapse zone. 10-4
Dispatcher: All right, we're sending you some help.
"I've listened to those transmissions for years, and my mind won't go there. It just won't go there," Fuentes said.
That Fuentes survived 9/11 when so many of his colleagues didn't is something that consumes him.
"There's tremendous guilt. And I deal with that the best I can, you know, but. . . I didn't leave after the first collapse. And that's a big thing for me," Fuentes said.
The gathering ended with students on their feet in a warm tribute to a man forever tied to history.
"To think of all the choices he had to make that day. That's so courageous and brave. It's just inspiring," Mara Heneghan, Stagg High School student, said.
"It didn't just happen on 9/11, that year and that's it. We still think about it. We still feel the pain," Noor Salah, Stagg High School student, said.
The 60-year-old Fuentes says he's still in physical therapy and still sees a doctor for his injuries. He's retired from the fire department but speaks to audiences across the country.
He says he does not plan to be at Ground Zero on 9/11. Because so many people were never accounted for, he considers it sacred ground.