Incident Report: Remembering the Father’s Day Fire

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Editor’s note: A five-alarm fire in a hardware store in the Astoria section of Queens, NY, on June 17, 2001, killed three FDNY members – Lieutenant John Downing, Firefighter Brian Fahey and Firefighter Harry Ford – and injured numerous others. There were nearly a dozen career-ending injuries from this incident. The fact that the fire occurred on Father’s Day was traumatic not only to the families, firefighters and fire department, but to the entire City of New York. Charities set up for the families raised several million dollars, something that was unheard of in the city before this tragedy. Just over three months after this incident, 9/11 would be the worst day in the FDNY and have a tremendous impact on America. Some people say the Father’s Day fire, as terrible as it was at the time, has been forgotten, but we say it was just overshadowed by 9/11. I spoke to all but one of the firefighters right after the fire. As the 10th anniversary approaches, we recall what happened on that Father’s Day in June 2001.

BATTALION CHIEF

WILLIAM SEELIG

Battalion 49

(now Deputy Assistant

Chief of the Special

Operations Command)

I had been at a reported hazmat incident where nothing was found. Squad 288 gave a “10-75” (working fire) a few blocks away. As I arrived, Squad 288 was operating a saw to cut roll-down gates. I walked down the exposure-2 side to take a look. A civilian approached me and said I know where the fire was located. He said it’s right behind a door in the exposure-3 alley. I thought it was a better way to attack the fire. I had Engine 262, second due, stretch a line to the rear rather than the interior stairs. Ladder 163 was arriving on the exposure-2 side of the building. I had Ladder 163 work with Engine 262 to force the door in the rear. Apparently, kids had spilled some gasoline and it was the father who pointed out where the fire was located.

Squad 288 opened the roll-down gates. Chief Kevin Duffy of the 45 Battalion arrived. I had him supervise the operation in the rear. Squad 288 had a hoseline in the fire building at the top of the basement stairs. Several times, the door opened. They could hear aerosol cans exploding and possibly electrical arcing. Conditions on the first floor were getting bad. I told Squad 288 to keep the basement door closed and protect the stairs.

I went in with Squad 288, who was at the top of the stairs. They said they had a half tank left in their SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). Rescue 4 called for a line as they had some fire extension on the first floor. Engine 312 stretched a line into the store. Captain Brian Hickey of Rescue 4 asked Mike Milner of Rescue 4 if he needed a line on the second floor. He said no. I called the 45 Battalion and asked how they were doing. They said there was a problem with the door. I said if you can’t make it, we’ll try from here. The third time I asked, the 45 said we’re in, but there is another door. They used the Rabbit tool and then a Hurst tool. They were able to only open the outside door 15 inches. Engine 262 was going to advance, but the 45 said do not enter until the entire door is open.

I went outside to check on Engine 312. It was getting pretty bad inside the store when Battalion Chief John Moran of the same battalion arrived. He was detailed to the Special Operations Command. I was talking to him for about 30 seconds. A member of Ladder 163 got a saw to cut the hinge on the rear exterior door. The officer of Ladder 163 slipped inside and was halfway in and halfway out when the building exploded. The explosion blew me, Chief Moran and Engine 312 into the street. The 49 Battalion aide, who was at the corner of exposure 1 and 2, was knocked into the corner. The 14th Division aide reported to the Queens dispatcher to transmit a second alarm and that there had been an explosion. Deputy Chief Arty Messbauer of the 14th Division, who had just arrived seconds earlier, walked back to the car and had the aide request a fourth alarm.

There were reports of many members missing. I had no idea the exposure-2 side wall had collapsed. After the explosion, we didn’t have a lot of guys to do anything. The guys we did have were missing, injured or in shock. Engine 312 became aware of a member missing. There was a hole that you could see into the basement. I looked in the hole and I could see stripes on a turnout coat. I thought we were going to get to him. A guy from the RAC (Recuperation and Care ) unit came into the hallway with a shovel to remove debris. Squad 41 arrived and I told them to attempt to remove the missing member. The captain from Ladder 116 told everybody working with hand tools to get away from the hallway and the front of the building.

Five to 10 minutes after the first collapse, a second collapse occurred. After the units regrouped, there was a lot more fire in the store and in the basement where we had seen the turnout coat. We brought a line into the area of the hole where we saw the firefighter. We operated saws inside the building. Conditions got real bad. Guys were tumbling out. Eventually, they made a hole in the floor and Firefighter Pat Hickey from Rescue 3 went down a scissor ladder into the hole. There was too much heat and fire for him to continue. There was a concern of another collapse in front of the building. The remaining members of Rescue 4, who were missing two members, were told to stand by. Firefighter John Gaine asked to let them go in and give it another try. Chief Moran operated in exposure 4 as units tried to breach a several-foot-thick wall into the basement.

 

FIREFIGHTER

ROBERT KNABBE

Rescue 3

Rescue 3 and the collapse unit responded to the scene as the second rescue on the signal “10-60” (major emergency). There was a lot of radio traffic on the Queens frequency. Coming over the Triborough Bridge, we could look down on the incident. There was a good fire and a lot of smoke. When we arrived, we positioned the rescue and collapse unit at the intersection. There was a lot of chaos. The building had detonated before we arrived. The exposure-2 side of the building was visible where the wall collapsed.

It took a few minutes to get a handle on what was going on. There was a report of a member trapped in the basement. The last contact they had was his Vibra-Alert was going off ... They were also looking for a couple more firefighters. I saw Firefighter John Giordano from hazmat leaning against a wall across the street; he was exhausted and had an astonished look on his face. I hooked up with John Gaine from Rescue 4. He thought that Brian Fahey was down in the basement in the front portion.

You couldn’t find the stairs initially. The place was charged with smoke. There was zero visibility. There was stock all over the place. Crawling back out, you couldn’t see anything. It was so bad that as I crawled out of the building onto the sidewalk, someone grabbed my shoulder straps and said hey brother, you’re out, you’re out. It was impossible to get downstairs; the fire conditions were too heavy.

The idea was to go into exposure 4 and breach the basement wall. We used the Stanley hydraulic system. The wall was several feet thick. There was a lot of water in the basement of the fire building. There were different-colored fires burning in that basement. I came back out front. There had been a collapse of the front parapet. They were worried about more of the building coming down. We went up the aerial ladder of 154. We slung a wire around the parapet with a griphoist and pulled it down. Eventually, I made my way to the hardware store. Getting into the middle of the floor, I located the basement stairs, which ran from the middle of the store back to the front. I radioed that I had found the stairs. At the bottom, I was in water up to my thighs. It was waist deep. There was smoke, but the fire was knocked down.

Within five or six feet of the stairs, I found Firefighter Brian Fahey of Rescue 4. A few more guys came down. There was no sign of life. We called for a Stokes basket. The stairs were very narrow. We put a rope on the Stokes basket and packaged Firefighter Fahey. A few firefighters pulled on the rope from above and we were able to get him upstairs. We got him up to the first floor and Rescue 4 took over. They carried their brother outside and down the block to a waiting ambulance. Every firefighter in the street took off their helmet and waited in silence as Firefighter Fahey was taken home.

Chief Ray Downey called us over and thanked us for doing a good job. Someone else thanked us for a difficult assignment. I had taken a walk around to the side where the wall had collapsed. They had already located Harry Ford and John Downing. Harry had a tremendous reputation. I thought how could this happen to this guy?

 

FIREFIGHTER

MIKE MILNER

Rescue 4 (now retired)

We had no idea of the contents of the occupancy. Chief Seelig was giving orders. Captain Brian Hickey gave us our assignments. Two of us did a search on the second floor of the adjacent building. Captain Hickey radioed me and asked if I smelled anything. I said yes, paint thinner. It was clear as day upstairs.

In another 30 seconds, there was an explosion and I hit the ceiling. I thought I was not going to live. It took less than a second to go up and down. I almost fell out of the building when the adjacent wall collapsed. I looked to my left and there was a wide-open space. I was hanging on the edge of the wall with the street and sidewalk below me. Someone yelled to wait for a ladder. Before I could wait, I scrambled down a carpet and waste pipe to the first floor over debris. I wasn’t hurt at all.

Over the radio came a roll call. I heard Brian Fahey say I am in the basement. I went to work breaching the wall, which was made of fieldstone and was several feet thick. There was a lot of fire and hard to make it in the basement initially. We later carried out Brian after we placed an American flag over the Stokes basket. John Downing of Ladder 163 got off the tower ladder turntable to help Harry Ford. He did the right thing. His wife and son died of cancer after the fire. It was a bad week for the fire department. Who knew in a few weeks the fire would be off the front pages and not remembered after 9/11?

 

FIREFIGHTER

JOHN GAINE

Rescue 4

We were in the firehouse. Senior man Harry Ford was doing his crossword puzzles. Tiger Woods was playing golf on TV. We were cooking lunch. We received a run for a vacant building collapse in Harlem, Manhattan. As we were crossing the Triborough Bridge, the dispatcher gave a report that the building was vacant for years. There was no collapse; the building was coming down for years. Return all special units.

The Manhattan dispatcher said switch to the Queens frequency; they have a run. Captain Hickey switched to the Queens frequency and we made a U-turn at the toll plaza. Respond to Queens “10-75,” Astoria Boulevard, a hardware store. We could look down over the side of the bridge and Brian Fahey said there is the smoke. We were two minutes away from the location. We could hear the handie-talkie traffic. Hazmat and a lot of companies were already there.

We witnessed a commercial building on the corner. Heavy, black smoke was pumping. The forcible-entry saws were cutting the roll-down gates. Chief Seelig said we haven’t found the fire, open up the gates. One gate had been cut and we finished the second one. I entered the hardware store. There was a counter midway back. I got to the rear and took the glass. One window had steel bars and the other had a scissor gate. I carried a thermal imaging camera. Going down the aisles Captain Hickey met Captain Murphy of Squad 288. We have the stairs to the basement. The orders were to hold the fire at the top of the stairs and don’t go down into the basement.

I could feel the charged line. I said let’s make a push. Captain Murphy said who is that? He shined the light in my face. He said the 49 said stay at the top of the stairs. Hickey said let’s look for extension. I could see heat coming up a couple of bays from the basement. There was no visibility. We had our masks on. Squad 288 and Ladder 116 were at the top of the stairs. They could see fire down the stairs with the fire rolling along the ceiling.

Hickey said before you open up, let me call for a second line. Hickey called Chief Seelig several times before he went outside. I pointed the camera to show him the way out. I went back to search for another door or exit. I could look out the rear windows and see that it was two stories down. I went back to Squad 288 and Ladder 116. Brian Fahey was across from me talking. Lieutenant Pat Horn, Ladder 116, opened the door and tried to take a few steps down, but there was too much fire. There were green and blue flames coming through the door. Hickey came back in. He said let’s open the walls. I put the camera in Hickey’s belly so he could feel it because I couldn’t see him.

As I took the chisel end of the halligan hook, the place blew up. I was blown straight toward the rear. I could see Captain Hickey, I could see the silhouette of Hickey by a big orange fireball. He was in midair sideways. I was lying near the counter. The fireball was gone, but the area was much warmer. There was debris everywhere. We had to climb over piles. I heard Maydays immediately. It was like you were hit by a bat. I just laid there and said what just happened? Maydays were being given by several companies.

Hickey called to me, John, John. Are you OK? Yes, I answered. He asked where are you? I answered I am in the back. I followed his voice. Hickey followed Adam Rand from Squad 288, who was by the front door. There were mounds of debris. There were no longer any aisles. The ceiling tiles and lumber and wire holding the ceiling tiles had collapsed. Adam was lying on his belly on a roll-down gate under the smoke yelling is there anybody in there? This is the way out. He was killed on 9/11. Hickey followed his voice and I followed Hickey. I could hear Adam when I got close to the entrance.

When I made it to the street, Brian Hickey had a look of astonishment on his face. What just happened? Hickey made it to Seelig. He explained we just had a major explosion and there were members still in there trapped. I had lost my tools and helmet. Seelig and Hickey discussed getting two 2½-inch handlines and marching in and getting the guys out. Unbeknown to us, we had no idea that exposure-2 side of the building had collapsed. There was some debris at the exposure 1-2 side. Companies were coming in. Seelig was giving directions to incoming units. Hickey was trying to account for his men on the radio. There was no response from Harry Ford. Brian answered that he was in the basement. I am trapped, come and get me. Brian was in contact three times. The last time his Vibra-Alert was going off.

When the explosion occurred, you could look down into the basement. I left and went right to Ladder 154, who had just arrived. I took a saw and a hook from them. Hickey was still calling Harry without success. Several feet in the hallway of the residential building, I started to open the floor, with the thought of after it was open we could put a portable ladder down to the front of the basement and get Brian.

Everything in the rear was untenable. Heavy smoke was coming out the front. Along the staircase wall, the fire ignited. Someone yelled the fire was over my head. They said they have a line in the street. I said shoot the line over my head, I want to get the floor opened up. Fahey is in the basement. I started to get burned from the steam. Hickey took over the saw and I stuck the line into the wall to darken down the fire. I took over the saw again.

The first special unit to arrive was Squad 41. They tried to get down the ladder, but there was too much heat. Rescue Chief Downey eventually let one firefighter down at a time. Companies tried to breach the exposure-4 basement wall. It was several feet thick. Chief of Department (Peter) Ganci and Chief Downey tried to get in, but there was fire burning on top of the water. Chief Downey made the remaining members of Rescue 4 stand fast.

When I turned the corner on the exposure-2 side of the fire, I couldn’t believe what we saw. Captain Hickey was still calling for Harry Ford. There were reports of firefighters working near a white car on exposure 2. First, a few firefighters started to dig through the rubble between the white car and the wall that collapsed. Eventually, there were dozens of firefighters passing debris from the area. After some time, Harry Ford, then John Downing were located under tons of debris on the sidewalk. When we carried Brian Fahey out, we tried to give him the respect he deserved. At the ambulance, anybody close by took a knee. There was a priest there who said a few prayers.

 

FIREFIGHTER BOB ANDERSON

Chauffeur, Ladder 154 (now Rescue 3)

We were operating at a tree down on Northern Boulevard at the entrance to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I heard the “10-75.” When the second alarm was transmitted with a report of an explosion and firefighters down, Lieutenant Dan Buckheit said take it in. Lieutenant Buckheit called the dispatcher and said that we were enroute. We pulled up on the corner. There was chaos. It looked like a battle scene. Some firefighters were walking around dazed. Others were crawling across the street. There was utter silence. Bricks were all over the street. Fire was blowing out. There was a Battalion Chief with a bloody face. Firefighters were lying down across the street. They were all in shock.

We received reports of firefighters missing on the exposure-2 side. The lieutenant said bring the plastic buckets we carry to that side of the building. John Gaine came over and said I need your saw and hook, I just talked to Brian and I know where he is. I finished getting dressed and started to work on the brick pile on exposure 2. A firefighter from Ladder 116 was partially buried over there. You could look into the basement and first floor. There was heavy fire and smoke and a strong odor of chemicals. We figured they might have been blown out into the rubble pile when the building pancaked, so we started working there. The wall actually dropped down and rolled into the street.

Firefighter Joe Vosilla was found first. There were a million guys there. Stuff was flying everywhere in a race against time in finding them. When the two buried firefighters were found, it was a long way to EMS. They had to be carried over hoses a long way to reach their staging area. We went to the rear and found a Hurst tool and the partially opened rear door. It was blown off its hinges.

When we were able to enter the rear door, fire was burning on top of the water. We pushed the fire to the front with a handline and then the fire was pushed back toward us. We stepped inside with a search line. We were waist deep in water. The fire continued to push us out. Bricks and other debris kept falling down. A chief allowed just three of us to work at one time. Sometimes, a ball of fire would come toward us and the lieutenant would say get out. We went in and out and back and forth numerous times. We operated in the rear until they located Brian Fahey. We put Ladder 116’s aerial ladder into the second floor apartment. We had heard a PASS alarm, but it was from a discarded airpack. Brian Hickey sent our company a letter on Rescue 4 stationery and thanked the company for their outstanding efforts on their behalf.

FIREFIGHTER

TIM GEHERTY

Squad 288

We responded to a box for a hazmat incident. When we pulled up, we were told to take up. This was a few blocks from the hardware store. We pulled up to a red light and a woman came off the curb pushing a baby stroller. She said I think that building’s on fire. Over the front door was a 12-by-12-inch grill pushing smoke. Captain Dennis Murphy had the chauffeur turn the corner and take a hydrant in front of a Baptist church. Getting off the rig, a man standing there tells the captain I’ll show you where the fire is. They walk into a doorway where it leads to the second floor. Right before the captain went in, he said start a hoseline. We stretched a 1¾-inch handline to the sidewalk and held the folds of hose. He radioed back that the fire was not upstairs, but in the hardware store.

We put the hose to the side and went back to the rig and stretched a 2½-inch handline. The chauffeur was told to transmit a “10-75.” Because of the other incident in the neighborhood, no other companies were with us. Firefighter Tim Murphy started cutting the locks on the store with a metal cutting saw. We put the line down to help him push the roll-down gates up. The front door was forced. Other companies started to arrive. The line was charged with water and brought into the hardware store. You could tell the fire was in the basement.

We went past the check-out counter and made a loop in the hoseline and positioned in front of the basement door three to four feet away and stood fast. The captain said hang out here, other companies were coming inside. You could hear popping noises in the basement like sounds you would hear at an electrical fire in a manhole.

As we were standing fast, Chief Bill Seelig came into to talk to Captain Murphy. Seelig said there is a door in the back and we will try to get in from there; if anything comes up, you can take care of it from here. Seelig reported they were still working on the door, it was tough, it will be a few minutes. The electrical popping noises were still audible from the basement. Captain Brian Hickey and Firefighters John Gaine and Brian Fahey from Rescue 4 were inside with members of Ladder 116. Gaine had a thermal imaging camera. He said the floors and walls were hot. The basement stairs had a spring-loaded door.

Suddenly, the door opened up on its own. For a second, a bright-blue flame the size of the door blew past me and the backup man. It was the entire height of the door over six feet in height and as wide as the door. As soon as I put my hand on the nozzle, the fire was gone. Murphy said get the line out from in front of the door and move it to the side a little bit. We moved the line off to the side. The captain radioed what had happened. A couple of minutes later, the same thing happened again. The fire came out again and then it stopped. We backed up so we would be out of the line of fire. We had our masks on the whole time. The smoke level was two-thirds of the way down from the ceiling.

Hickey and Gaine moved into the area on the exposure-4 side. The chief came back in and said they were having a hard time, you may have to go downstairs from here. How much air do you have left, he asked. We all had half tanks left. The chief asked the captain if he thought they had enough air to do it. The chief was going to go outside to coordinate so they didn’t advance and then would give us the green light at that time. There wasn’t any fire coming up the stairs. Murphy started to orchestrate how he was going to have us go down the stairs. He made sure we were all OK. He gave me a nod, are you ready? I looked at him and said something doesn’t feel right. The chief left to go back and a few seconds later the place blew up.

The explosion was like a blockbuster going off, you heard it and then you felt it. The way we felt it, we were in line facing the stairs waiting to go down. It felt like the whole place went up in the air. The floor was like a wave. Everybody in the squad had left-side leg injuries. I felt the floor waving from the exposure-4 side. I didn’t see any fire. It was lights out. It was quiet for a few seconds. All the guys inside were trying to give Maydays. Nothing was coming over the radio. You could hear the firefighters from a few feet away. They were all trying to key their mics at the same time. A couple of people got their Maydays out. I could hear Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, there has been an explosion.

The guys that were in the store started calling for each other. I didn’t have anybody around me, so I gave a Mayday. Chief Seelig said we’re coming to get you. I thought I had fallen down a hole into the basement right at the top of the stairs, I wasn’t sure. When the explosion happened, I went upwards and hit something, possibly the tin ceiling, and I passed shelving units on the way down. That’s why I thought I was in the basement. I pictured the whole Mayday drill verbatim in my mind. Tim Murphy, the door man, was blown out the front door and hit a car parked outside.

After I gave the Mayday, I waited for them. Again I thought I was in the basement and didn’t want to get lost. There were so many things happening they didn’t get to me at that time. I’m waiting, shining my light in the air. I couldn’t find my microphone. There was stock on top of me. After awhile, I said I have to do something. I still didn’t hear anybody in my area, although I heard guys talking initially. The radio traffic was pretty solid. I looked up in the air and saw a little box of light that looked like a flashlight, but it didn’t move. I thought it was daylight. I crawled up a ramp of bricks that appeared to end just before the first-floor ceiling.

When I crawled to the top, I could see Ladder 116’s apparatus. I was unable to walk; there was something wrong with my left leg. So I crawled down the bricks on the outside. I crawled right into Firefighter Joe Vosilla. My mask was still on and being dirty I couldn’t see him trapped in the rubble on the sidewalk. Someone came over to tell me to watch out. There as a firefighter located there. I moved over and crawled into the middle of the street in front of Ladder 116. I took my mask off and could hear PASS alarms going off. I saw Captain Murphy sitting on the sidewalk across the street from the exposure-2 wall that collapsed. Because of the missing wall, you could see fire sporadically in different rooms in the fire building. Shelves with stock were visible. Other injured firefighters were there as well. I said if there is another explosion, the stock could blow out to us. So we all started crawling around the corner. Cops and firefighters helped us around the corner away from the collapse zone. We sat there and waited for EMS.

 

CAPTAIN

DENNIS MURPHY

Squad 288 (now retired)

I was putting the company back in service and we decided to drive back to quarters after a run on 21st Street. A woman flagged us down. We were met by a male resident. He led me into a residential building, into the basement apartment and into the rear common area. There was a black door with a silver padlock in the rear. I felt the door and it was a little warm. Smoke was puffing and you could hear the fire. There was an odor of gasoline. He was the father of one of the two kids playing back there. The firefighters had started to stretch a 1¾-inch handline in front of the residence. I told them the fire was in the hardware store. The 49 Battalion arrived. Firefighter Tim Murphy was forcing entry into the roll-down gates with a saw.

As we got into the store, Ladder 116 arrived. We opened the door to the basement. We had to pass out a piece of plywood with an entire store display of a product that was placed there. There was a case of nails and other hardware supplies. I thought are we in the right store? I didn’t know what staircase to use. I told Chief Seelig about the door on a slope in the rear. Because of a grade, the street sloped down. The basement was in the rear. We knew the fire was near the rear door. The idea was to bring a line to the rear.

The hardware store was closed for Father’s Day. Progress in the rear was very slow. The fire that came out the basement door on the first floor chased the guys from Ladder 116. A blue-green flame blew out the door and sucked back down. You could hear paint cans blowing. Things were going downhill. As soon as they got water we thought they would have it. They were only able to get the exterior door open a few inches when they found another door inside the first door. Some of the firefighters masks on the first floor started to Vibra-Alert.

Chief John Moran from Special Operations came inside twice and then left. Deputy Chief Artie Messbauer arrived on the scene and assumed command. That’s when the building blew up. Shelves with stock blew down on me. I broke my left leg. One of the firefighters was moving past me and I called out to him. He moved the shelves off of me. Three of us crawled down and up to the hole left in the exposure-2 wall when it collapsed. I was removed to the hospital and treated.

As I was about to be released, I was asked to stay until Mary Fahey arrived and was with her when she identified her husband. Having a bad day at work, nothing comes close to this. This was the end of the world for a lot of families. Many firefighters never came back to work. Wives were left to raise their children. After the funeral, everybody goes home. Someone said after 9/11 you were one of the luckiest members of the fire department. If you were fit for duty and home, who knows what might have happened at the Trade Center.

I had been promoted together with Brian Hickey from Rescue 4. We had studied for the battalion chief’s test together. Brian was in my house on the Saturday before 9/11. He was going to work overtime on Tuesday because he was low in overtime. He died working in Rescue 3.

 

FIREFIGHTER

BRIAN KEARNEY

Ladder 117

(now a covering captain)

After responding to a hazmat call first due at a supermarket at 21st Street and 29th Avenue, Astoria, I was talking with Chief Bill Seelig of the 49 Battalion. The chauffeur yelled get on the rig, we have a box. The way we were pointed, Ladder 116 beat us in. There was a little smoke. I took the thermal imaging camera and we went upstairs in the residential portion of the building. There was a light smoke condition upstairs. We thought it was just one apartment. People were up there. I told them they had to leave.

I didn’t smell anything. I was showing the probie what to do. We opened up under the kitchen sink. The boss gave a report. We opened a hole in the wall near the door and it got a little heavier. The lieutenant said open the windows. I placed my tools on the kitchen table. I showed the probie how to open the windows and said we could look like aces instead of breaking them apart. We weren’t really doing anything. We could hear lines being stretched. I thought I heard a Hurst tool. I looked out the window to the exposure-3 side and could see a Hurst tool and our outside vent man in the rear. I said what are they using that for? We were told to go downstairs. Firefighter Pete Brennan came in and left.

The smoke condition now started to get a little heavier. Firefighter Mike Milner from Rescue 4 grabbed the thermal imaging camera. As I was picking up my tools, the officer asked the firefighters operating at the front of the roof to go toward the other side of the building’s roof. I started to walk and noticed the nice parquet floor. The floor started to come up. I didn’t hear anything.

Next thing I know, I went out the window. I lost the camera. One of the firefighters in my company, his father lives down the street. His brother-in-law was watching the fire from across the street and saw me go out the window. He said I was like an ostrich with my head down and my legs in the air. He dug me out and dragged me across the street. The probie hit the wall between both windows. The officer was injured. The six to eight firefighters operating on the front roof had moved to the other side of the roof. They would have been operating right where the roof blew up.

I was going in and out of consciousness. I did see the building. It did remind me of the Oklahoma City bombing. I remember getting hit in the head. Guys picked me up and moved me around the corner. I had an imprint of the SCBA harness on my back that was black and blue. I broke my nose and had a cracked orbit around my eye. I received 200 stitches in my head. EMS left me to work on one of the other firefighters who had been trapped by the collapse on the sidewalk. While I was waiting, I saw them remove one of the two other trapped firefighters on the sidewalk and Dr. (Kerry) Kelly, chief medical officer, was doing CPR.

I was taken to New York Cornell Hospital. My head was split open and I was screaming in pain. I was in the hospital for five days. On 9/11, I was scheduled to have debris removed from my forehead. I was all prepped when the doctor came in and said we are not doing this today. He asked if I wanted to accompany him down to Ground Zero in an ambulance. I had a big argument with my wife. I wound up not going to the WTC. The ambulance that the doctor rode in wound up having both paramedics killed and the doctor got a broken leg.

I took my son to 86 funerals after 9/11. I was a member of the Emerald Society Pipe Band. The first funeral I played was for Captain Timothy Stackpole. The band played at 459 memorial services and funerals.

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