From the August 2002 Firehouse Magazine
Captain Chris Boyle Engine 94 - 18 years
Firehouse: Please describe what was happening when you came in on the recall.
Boyle: I got here probably about a quarter after 10. Everybody was starting to roll in. I was at home and I didn’t see the first one hit. I called Division 6. I asked if there was a recall. And they said no, stay by the phone. This is before the second one hit. The second one hit, and I just went in and got here like I said probably about a quarter after 10. Guys were starting to collect, I called the Division. I was able to get through once and they said everybody stay where they were, don’t come to the Division, don’t go downtown, just stay where you are right now.
Just before the first tower came down, I had one of the probies calling, making sure that we were getting everybody on the recall in case they didn’t see a TV.
Right after the first tower came down, Division 6 said come to the Division, we’re going to muster up there.
Firehouse: When you got to the firehouse, did you know that there was a recall? Did you hear on the radio?
Boyle: I was listening to the radio on the way down and they said there was a recall.
Firehouse: So you got in a couple of cars and went to Division 6?
Boyle: There were about 10 of us. When we got there, (Deputy) Chief (Tom) Fox was there and he said I need one officer and five firemen. Both Ladder 48 and I were one guy short.
So guys were starting to roll into the Division there and everybody was looking to fill out their roster of five guys. There was only one bus at the time and everybody wanted to be on it, so we were scrambling around trying to get a guy. Ended up I picked up Chris Delisio I think from 47 Truck. He ended up my fifth man. And right there who was collected the riding lists was a captain who was just promoted, Jimmy Rogers.
We grabbed some radios and anything else that was lying around. We didn’t think of goggles and stuff like that before we left, but we had oxygen bottles, blue gloves. There really wasn’t much. Chief Fox got on the bus with Sal Gigante, he’s an aide with the 6th Division – we started getting on the bus just after the second tower came down. We were there at the 6th Division when the second tower came down. It was just numbing. Everybody was just real quiet.
Firehouse: Was somebody listening to Manhattan or how did you know about it? How did you know the second tower came down?
Boyle: We saw it on TV. You had a sense of what was going on. They just had a bus, we’re going down. That’s all it was.
Firehouse: So was the bus filled up by then?
Boyle: Probably after about five or 10 minutes it was full. Chief Fox had said there’s going to be another bus, don’t worry, so guys weren’t panicky to get on it, but it ended up that was the only bus that left that day. It was one of those double buses, the articulated ones.
Firehouse: Did you have an escort?
Boyle: No, not initially. I think we headed for what was it the Third Avenue Bridge. I think it was the Third Avenue or Second Avenue Bridge and it was a total traffic jam because the bridge was closed. We were totally blocked. It ended up that a lot of the cars were firemen trying to get downtown, but Chief Fox and Gigante and another officer at the front of the bus moved a bunch of cars and we were on our way. As we got farther down south, everybody was heading north and we were in the one lane going down. We probably got down there about 11 o’clock because we left after the second tower came down.
We stopped at the Civic Center area there and we disembarked. And that’s where the dust was heavy. We got off the bus and there were some people handing out paper masks. We went up Park Row toward City Hall and we were carrying our bunker gear because we figured that we would get as close as we could before putting the boots on and everything, because it was kind of tough to walk around in. As we got to Park Row, we suited up, and we started heading toward what looked like a group of firemen gathering.
After that, we headed to Vesey and Broadway. That’s where (Deputy) Chief (Tom) Haring was. He was starting to put together a command post. I think he was the 6th Division that day. He had an officer there collecting the riding lists and I noticed a face, (Battalion Chief) Butch Brandes. I said what are we doing. He said just wait and see. So all the officers were making a line to get assignments and the other officer was collecting the BF-4s and Haring, I guess he got some type of order from somebody and all of a sudden, I see him grab a guy from the 21 Battalion and this was the first assignment he was giving out, so I rushed right into the small circle of guys and I ended up getting in on the assignment. And what it was was four engines, three trucks to World Trade Center 7.
Firehouse: Did that chief give an assignment to go to building 7?
Boyle: He gave out an assignment. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but he told the chief that we were heading down to the site.
Firehouse: How many companies?
Boyle: There were four engines and at least three trucks. So we’re heading east on Vesey, we couldn’t see much past Broadway. We couldn’t see Church Street. We couldn’t see what was down there. It was really smoky and dusty.
Before we took off, he said, look, if you see any apparatus, strip the apparatus for hose, nozzles, masks, anything you can get. As we headed east, we reached Church and then we were midway from there and then all of a sudden, we could see 5 come into view. It was fully involved. There was apparatus burning all over the place. Guys were scrambling around there. There were a lot of firemen, and there was a lot of commotion, but you couldn’t see much that was going on. I didn’t see any lines in operation yet. But we found a battalion rig there. We got a couple of harnesses out of there. We had some bottles from another rig, so we put together a couple of masks.
We went one block north over to Greenwich and then headed south. There was an engine company there, right at the corner. It was right underneath building 7 and it was still burning at the time. They had a hose in operation, but you could tell there was no pressure. It was barely making it across the street. Building 6 was fully involved and it was hitting the sidewalk across the street. I told the guys to wait up.
A little north of Vesey I said, we’ll go down, let’s see what’s going on. A couple of the other officers and I were going to see what was going on. We were told to go to Greenwich and Vesey and see what’s going on. So we go there and on the north and east side of 7 it didn’t look like there was any damage at all, but then you looked on the south side of 7 there had to be a hole 20 stories tall in the building, with fire on several floors. Debris was falling down on the building and it didn’t look good.
But they had a hoseline operating. Like I said, it was hitting the sidewalk across the street, but eventually they pulled back too. Then we received an order from Fellini, we’re going to make a move on 7. That was the first time really my stomach tightened up because the building didn’t look good. I was figuring probably the standpipe systems were shot. There was no hydrant pressure. I wasn’t really keen on the idea. Then this other officer I’m standing next to said, that building doesn’t look straight. So I’m standing there. I’m looking at the building. It didn’t look right, but, well, we’ll go in, we’ll see.
So we gathered up rollups and most of us had masks at that time. We headed toward 7. And just around we were about a hundred yards away and Butch Brandies came running up. He said forget it, nobody’s going into 7, there’s creaking, there are noises coming out of there, so we just stopped. And probably about 10 minutes after that, Visconti, he was on West Street, and I guess he had another report of further damage either in some basements and things like that, so Visconti said nobody goes into 7, so that was the final thing and that was abandoned.
Firehouse: When you looked at the south side, how close were you to the base of that side?
Boyle: I was standing right next to the building, probably right next to it.
Firehouse: When you had fire on the 20 floors, was it in one window or many?
Boyle: There was a huge gaping hole and it was scattered throughout there. It was a huge hole. I would say it was probably about a third of it, right in the middle of it. And so after Visconti came down and said nobody goes in 7, we said all right, we’ll head back to the command post. We lost touch with him. I never saw him again that day.
We ended up getting back to the command post at Broadway and Vesey. By that time, there were probably 50 officers standing in a row. And I was like, I’m not going to stand on another line like that. So we came down with Fox. I knew Fox was somewhere. So we found out that Fox was over at Cortlandt and Church. They were putting a tower ladder into operation, so we made our way over to there. We ended up helping.
They had no pressure at all off of any of the hydrants from Broadway. He was asking if there was any way that we could do anything at Broadway or West. From Broadway to West westward toward Church Street there was no pressure at all. We spotted one of the squads up on Cortlandt over by Broadway and he was hooked up to a hydrant, and it was running. There was nobody there. I don’t know which squad it was, but you know they were in there. We were just sitting there, so we stretched the line off of him. We relayed it to 274, who relayed it to another engine down the street and eventually we got more pressure. I think it was 22 Truck on Church and Cortlandt and they were operating to number 5.
We did that for a little while. It took a while to get the hose there because there was a White Plains company helping us and they had some different fittings. So we got water to 22, but then that’s when they said all right, number 7 is coming down, shut everything down. I don’t know what time that was. It was all just a blur.
Firehouse: Did they shut the tower lines and remove them from there?
Boyle: No, just left them. Everything was left where it was. Just shut everything down, moved everybody back.
Firehouse: Could you see building 7 again from there?
Boyle: Seven, no. You got a half block away, you couldn’t see it, couldn’t see a damn thing. All we heard was they were worried about it coming down, everybody back away. We ran into the people running around for water for the eyes because everybody’s eyes were burned and I don’t know who they were. I think it was the doctor and some other people. They were just running around, washing people’s eyes out.
We were there about an hour or so until number 7 came down and everything was black again.
Firehouse: So number 7 comes down. Everything went black?
Boyle: It was like it was night again. First, we went to Liberty and Church and that was the big pile from the south tower that came down. There was a pile there, had to be 15, 20 stories high with guys roaming around on the pile.
That was the first time I really saw one of the towers fully down. I had no idea. It was an amazing site, stunning, it was surreal. Guys were climbing around in the pile, but I figured we had to try to hook up with Chief Fox again, so we headed north on Church and we ran into Fox again on Church and they were putting the tower ladders back into operation.
Then he had us do a search of the Millennium Hotel. There were some glass shards that were missing. We headed up into the hotel and after we were on the second floor, removing some shards, I was missing one of my guys, I couldn’t find him.
We started searching around the hotel. We figured maybe he fell down, collapsed, something like that. It ended up he never made it into the hotel. He had walked in and all of a sudden he just made a turn, went to the corner, sat on the corner and never came in.
I didn’t even realize it until we got up onto the restaurant floor and it ended up we came back out. They found him out there. An ambulance was working on him. I was going to give a Mayday, but nobody was giving Maydays for missing guys. I told Chief Fox. I said he’s gone. He said, well, look around. So then we found him on the corner. We were searching around the hotel figuring we lost the guy, so we just hung out with Fox there at Cortlandt and Church for a while just relieving the guys.
That was pretty much the day right there. It was bizarre. You would figure that it would be Beirut, but it was Manhattan. You couldn’t believe what was happening. You see it on TV everywhere else, but not here. This was the first time I ever thought anything was possible.
We heard the fighter jets overhead. You couldn’t see them. My brother was in Vietnam. I remember walking down the street with him one day and he heard a backfire. He fell to the floor, this was soon after he came back from Vietnam. That was bizarre. Jet fighters shot overhead and you could see everybody, you saw the head duck. The first time I ever felt like that.
Firehouse: How many guys had stretched out the line?
Boyle: There were probably about 30 guys involved.
Firehouse: It was a long stretch?
Boyle: The closest engine, there was an engine, probably I would say, about a hundred feet east of Church, so we had to go across Church, across the courtyard, up those little steps in between, past 5 and 6 and then they went probably four or five flights into the pit after that. It was tremendous. They ended up using the line and they were in there for a while, but I don’t think they found anybody at that time and we ended up leaving.
As soon as the line was in place, they wanted everybody out, except that they had a rescue, a squad and I don’t know who had the nozzle at that time. I think it was the squad. One of the squads had extra guys and they were in there and they had wanted everybody else out, which was just fine.
Firehouse: Did it take a long time to get out of there?
Boyle: It was probably about 10 minutes getting in, 10 minutes getting out.
Firehouse: Were there a lot of voids and drops?
Boyle: In the side of pit, it opened up and you could drop 30 feet, 40 feet because that whole courtyard was built on I don’t know how many levels. It was all collapsed. You could see the dome in the middle. It was like an old movie, like an old painting you see from the Middle Ages . It was weird.
Nobody had a map, nobody knew the numbers initially of the buildings and so Fox sent us in. A couple of cops and some other firemen and I took the kiosk. It was the only thing with the numbers. It was right outside number 5. We took the poster off the kiosk because nobody had numbers in the buildings.