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.