Belfast Telegraph

The Belfast hero who is unable to escape the shadow of 9/11

By Ivan Little

Belfast-born paramedic Roger Smyth, who was hailed a hero after the Twin Towers tragedies, could be forgiven for never wanting the numbers 9/11 to come up in his life again.

For the Antrim Road man, whose New York badge number was 9110, came face to face with death and destruction again on 9/11 three years to the day after the World Trade Center attacks.

Roger had moved to the Cayman Islands on a two-year paramedic contract along with his wife Shirin, who he married in 2003.

But on 9/11 in 2004 their home on what should have been the idyllic Caymans was destroyed by the category-five Hurricane Ivan.

Roger, who had watched New York's part in 9/11 unfold from his home in Brooklyn and immediately went to the aid of the survivors in Manhattan, showed the same selflessness on the Cayman Islands by helping scores of victims.

Homeless Roger and Shirin lived in a tent for three months under curfew in searing 40-degree temperatures with no running water, electricity or sanitation.

The following year Roger, Shirin and new baby daughter Farah came to live in Belfast - but after six months they were on the move again to Brighton, where baby Sofia was born. Then, after Roger completed a postgraduate diploma as an emergency care practitioner, the Smyths settled in Sydney, Australia, where they are now citizens.

Roger (46) will not be marking the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center atrocities.

"That was only one day in New York," he said.

"It was nothing compared to the 25 years I spent in north Belfast."

Roger's story, and the photographs he took in Manhattan, will live on for ever.

They're featured in a best-selling book called Tower Stories: An Autobiography Of September 11th, by Damon DiMarco.

Ten years ago sitting on the roof of his apartment, Roger told me how the nightmare of 9/11 had affected him.

"It was probably the closest to hell on earth as you could possibly come," he said.

"We deal with death every day - we deal with young kids who have been shot in the head, people who have been carved with knives, but nothing at all prepares you for that." He told me he had to wrestle with a firefighter who was suffering from burns and severe respiratory problems to stop him going back into the rubble again to look for his missing colleagues.

Roger's heroism was recognised by the authorities in America.

His immigration status had expired in 2000, but he was granted a three-year extension in recognition of his courage on September 11.

In 2002 President Mary McAleese presented Roger with a bravery award at a glittering ceremony in the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

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