From the April 2002 Firehouse Magazine
I worked the night before, and I was supposed to work overtime in Ladder 111 and there was an officer coming here. I had called over to Ladder 111 and Lieutenant Chris Sullivan was working Engine 214. I said, I’ll work in Engine 214. The officer who was coming here called up and said, oh, no, I’ll go over there. Then he called up Chris and he was going to do the same switch. Chris got an EMS run before the hour and he stayed in 214, and he died.
They said, turn on the TV. You could see the flames coming out. All the guys were asking me, you worked in Manhattan, you had high-rise fires. I remember telling them this fire’s not going out. We don’t put out high-rise fires that big. When the fuel level diminished, we went in and knocked down the fires.
I was in Rescue 1 for six years. We had a transformer one year. We had a fire in the elevator another year. We rarely had fires down there. We’re in the kitchen. We’re watching it and everybody is thinking the same thing, oh my God, people are going to die. Firemen are going to be hurt. We didn’t even want to even think that. While we’re watching it, the second plane hit, and we got called to respond. I ran upstairs and I got my cell phone and I was trying to call my father. He is a retired battalion chief in the FDNY and the first chief of Rescue Services. He works for the Port Authority.
We were responding to a staging area near the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Almost the whole way there I was frantic. I was calling my father at work. I was calling him on the cell phone. I was calling my mother on my cell phone. I called my sister and I’m wondering where is he because I know he works in Jersey City. He goes to a lot of meetings at the Trade Center. I didn’t get through. It was hairy driving over there because we had a view of it the whole time. We got to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and we were there maybe five or 10 minutes and they sent us.
There were a bunch of companies there. There were a couple of battalion chiefs with us. We were getting hit with the ashes on the other side of the tunnel. You didn’t really want to look at it too long. I had a great crew. I had Dennis Dowdican. He’s been my chauffeur for 10 years. Willie Roberts, who’s the other chauffeur in my 24 group, he’s got over 20 years. Richie Nogan’s got over 20 years. Bob Pino, another excellent fireman, he’s got 12 years. Tom Fisa, 16 years. Bill Morris, 16 years. I had a very experienced crew.
I was telling the guys to sit down, relax, this is going to be a long day. We got called to respond to a staging area in Manhattan. Just as we’re going into the tunnel, Tom Manley – he’s the sergeant-at-arms of the firefighters union, and a member of this company – comes running up and he tells us they hit the Pentagon. He rode through the tunnel with us. We’re driving through and I’m thinking, oh my God, this is war, maybe the tunnel is a target.
I tell my chauffeur go, just get through it, and we got through. We parked the rig at Liberty and West streets and I reported to the staging area and the chief. He said, 113 report to Building 2 at the command post. I went back to the rig and I told everybody get an extra bottle. Everybody check your mask here, get search ropes. I hadn’t even gotten my mask on yet.
All of a sudden, we hear these incredible explosions. And I look up. I thought fire was breaking out on the upper floors. And then the debris starting hitting and I ran. And the reason I ran was because I didn’t have my mask on. All the guys had their masks on, they hid under the rig. I ran across the street. I was getting hit with debris and I got knocked down. That dust, I had it in my mouth. I couldn’t breathe. All of a sudden, it went pitch black. I thought it was the end of the world. My exact words to myself were they dropped the bomb on us and I’m going to die. People talk about a near-death experience, but I was calm, I realized maybe I’m not going to die.