From the April 2002 Firehouse Magazine
Firefighter John Breen Engine 74 - 3 years
I came in for the day tour. Heard the dispatch over the voice alarm. We were watching the television. Within a few minutes, we were dispatched on the second fifth alarm for the south tower. Two firefighters remained behind. Responding were Lieutenant Nichols, Firefighter Mike Shagy was the chauffeur, Pat Carey, Jeff Johnson, Ruben Carrera and myself. We took the West Side Highway and pulled up one-two blocks away at West and Vesey.
As I walked to the Marriott Hotel I looked up and said how are we going to fight this? The officer told us to walk as far away from the building as possible. One body was visible in the street. We entered the lobby of the hotel. One of the senior guys, Ruben Carrera, said stay close to me. He said loosen your coat, don’t overheat. He said look, I’m scared too. We have to put that in the back of our minds.
We reported to Chief Tom Galvin of Division 3. Engines were on one side and trucks were on the other. I remember seeing Ladder 25, Engine 40, Ladder 35, Engine 54 and Ladder 4, Ladder 11, Engine 23 and Ladder 12. Our orders were to search the top floor, there was a report of people trapped. Engine 54, Ladder 11, we, Engine 23 and possibly one more company was assigned. We took the elevator by ourselves to the 18th floor and walked up to the pool, spa and gym. We searched the area with negative results. We could see where a piece of landing gear wound up in the Jacuzzi. The pool was intact.
We walked back down to the 21st floor and down the hallway to the elevator. We were waiting for the elevator when Lieutenant Nichols said the elevator is running slow, let’s walk down the stairs to where we left the other elevator. We walked south to the south stairwell in single file. We heard the building starting to come down. The building started to sway like a ship. I could hear creaking. It felt like we were in a hurricane. I didn’t think it was the whole tower, but just a section. Everybody froze in place. Somebody said building collapse. I heard it getting louder and louder like an approaching train. You could hear the floors one on top of each other like dominoes, boom and boom.
I stayed where I was and braced for it. I didn’t think I was going to die. Maybe I’ll get stuck in a void and ride it out. I felt like I might get trapped, but I would be able to get myself out. I waited to go through the floor or wall. As it hit a huge gust of wind pushed me flat on my face. It felt like a 260-pound linebacker hit you.
The debris started to blow over me. I started to cough. I wiped my mouth; it was like paste on my glove. I could hear other firefighters coughing, so I knew they were all right. The guys were yelling each other’s names, put on flashlights. I knew everybody in the front was OK. We started to yell for Ruben. Jeff was calling for Ruben. I turned around and it was about 10 feet away where there was just rubble from when the building collapsed. The hallway was intact. The electricity was knocked out. Sheetrock and metal were hanging.
I was in shock, I couldn’t believe I was that close to being trapped. The officer gave a Mayday. Jeff went to the wall of debris and started to pull pieces off to see if there was a void. They couldn’t find any. The officer asked what hotel room I was near. I said 2106-08. I noticed half the room was missing. I could see right out and down. I couldn’t hear any response from down below. I thought maybe the radio wasn’t working when we got no response. The only transmission was from a firefighter from a ladder company. Mayday, Mayday, I’m trapped and I don’t know where I am, I’m running out of air.
We knew we had to get out and get help. We walked down the stairwell. We met Ladder 12 on a lower floor. At the sixth floor there was debris blocking the stairway and you couldn’t go any further. I walked into one of the suites. One of the truckies breached the wall with a halligan tool. They decided they were going to tie off a hose with a substantial knot and slide down the hose out the window. That would be a six-floor drop. Somebody remembered seeing a rope on an upper floor. Two members of Ladder 12 went back upstairs to retrieve the rope.