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...
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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.
(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.