From the April 2002 Firehouse Magazine
Lieutenant Bill Wall Engine 47 - 16 years
We were additional units on the fifth alarm for the south tower. We went right down. We went down West End Avenue and we ran into West Street and just went straight down West Street. We parked about a block up from Vesey.
We saw a lot of smoke and flames in the upper floors. You really couldn’t see the south tower from where we were. We walked down the west side of West Street and we were keeping close to the buildings. And when we got to the Customs House, there was a policeman behind one of the pillars. He jumped out and said we got to get in because they’re tracking another inbound meaning another plane, but we ignored him. We kept going.
We went under the north pedestrian to the west side of West Street. And we made our way down to the south pedestrian bridge, crossed under that and we made our way into the Marriott Hotel. Chief Galvin was behind the desk and he was forming companies into groups. We eventually hooked up with 22 Engine, 13 Truck and, I believe, 21 Engine. And Chief Galvin told us to go to the 40th floor because that’s the lowest report they had a fire. The south tower. We were supposed to follow this guy who worked in the buildings. He was going to lead us to an elevator that still worked. But luckily, the guy who took us to the working elevator took us to the wrong tower. We went to the north tower. Saved our lives. Wrong place at the right time. We never got into the south tower. He took us right to the north tower.
We get into the lobby of the north tower and the first elevator bank, there was one elevator out of the six that still had the lights on, but they couldn’t get it to work. Meanwhile, all the other elevators were blown off their doors. So we tried the next elevator bank of six and they finally got one that worked to the 24th floor. I think it was captain of 21 he went up to check. He went up and he came back down. He went up with his guys and someone from the truck took the elevator. And then the other engine went up in the next load, 22, and on the load after that, the truck was going up. They wanted one of our guys to run the elevators since there was only one truck, so I gave the control radio to Fireman Louie Cacchioli.
It seemed like just as soon as the doors closed, the panel went out. But he had actually gotten to the top floor and the rest of the truck got off. And the last guy getting off was the irons guy, and Louie grabbed him back and says you got to stay with me because I need the tools. And as soon as the doors closed, the power went out and they were stuck in the elevator. It hadn’t moved yet. It was still on the 24th floor. They were able to force their way out pretty easy. They just popped the doors open because the elevator didn’t move yet.
The guy from the truck thought his company went to the right and Louie went to the left. And Louie found the staircase and I think he said he got down about six floors, but the staircase was blocked, so he crossed over and found another staircase and he made it to the lobby. And he had to force the door open at the lobby because it was jammed. He made his way out into the street and he hooked up with the chauffeur just before the second tower came down.
Meanwhile, in the lobby, it seemed like just as soon as the elevator doors closed, the power went out. They just went black. We couldn’t see a damn thing. It turned black and then it started rumbling and the wind and dirt was unbelievable. It was just like a hurricane. It threw me against the wall. Steve Viola said he was hurt and Keith Murphy said he was hurt. Steve lost his helmet, it got blown off his head.
After everything stopped, I looked down and I says count off, you’re supposed to take like a roll call, shout out your name. Everyone shouted out their name and said they were all right. We just like locked arms together and started walking out. There was a building worker there that was going to stay, but Tommy Terilli convinced him to come with us. We still don’t know who he was. He was worried about his job. Tommy Terilli says they don’t pay you enough, come on. When we got out of the elevator lobby, we made the right past the turnstiles and there was also people at the bottom of the escalator coming down. They were looking for a way out, so they grabbed on the line too. The visibility was zero. We got this whole line.
On the way in, I noticed that all the windows in the lobby were blown out, and that it would be a good way out if we needed to – and it was. We had to make a right out of the elevator corridor and then another right. But it was so dark that I bumped into a wall. That’s how bad the visibility was.
We started walking that way and it gradually got lighter, lighter and lighter to where we could see the windows. We went out the windows. We went straight across West Street straight out and then we got across the street and we went up north.
Debris was still falling. You couldn’t see the sky. Maybe you could see like 30 or 40 feet up. And the weirdest thing, you could hear these booms above you. It sounded like bombs going off above you, but it was actually the military jets flying overhead. It was like an eerie feeling. You couldn’t see anything, but you could hear these things going back and forth. It was like a real heavy fog.
We started heading north up West Street looking for ambulances for Murphy and Viola. We found a pumper and our eyes were burning, so we pulled the booster tank, opened the gate and washed our faces down.
Then we made our way north and we saw all the ambulances lined up on Vesey Street. We found an EMS worker and he promised to take good care of Steve and Keith – until he ran away on us. As the other one was coming down, he opened the back door and he took off.
We were on our own. We got them into the ambulance. Tommy Terilli and I started making our way back because now all the Maydays were starting. It was broken up a lot, but you could hear Mayday, Mayday and they were giving locations. So Tommy Terilli and I got some tools. We put our masks on and we headed back down, and we made it to Vesey and West Street. There was a chief directing everybody north saying they were going to regroup and go back in. I went over to him and kind of stressed the Maydays were here and now, and we were talking and that’s when the north tower came down. You heard it, a big snap and a crack. And we looked up and it looked like the whole top just exploded.
Everyone just started heading north. Everyone just ran. We got hit by the wind and the dust and I was running with Jack Ginty. He was running. I caught up to him and we were talking as we were running, what the hell are we doing here, Jack? The dust cloud overtook us and there was a big white Suburban. There was about seven of us behind it huddled. Jerry Riley was there from 22 Truck, me, Jack and a couple of other guys. And it was getting tough to breathe. I had my mask, so we were passing the mask around. You couldn’t see, so whoever was yelling for it, I would like feel their face and just like slap it on their face for a little while. Then feel the next guy’s face and then pass it to him and then take some for myself. My other guy, Tommy Terilli, he dove under a tow truck.
After like the wind and stuff subsided and we realized, all right, there’s nothing to do here, we just got to walk out of it. So we started walking north on West Street and walking and walking and we bumped into something and it turned out to be an apparatus. If you stick your face real close to it, you could see the light flashing. There was just no visibility.
I don’t know how far we got. A water truck showed up, somebody delivered the bottled water, like the five gallons of water, so we started grabbing them off the rigs and started washing our eyes out again. I tried making contact with my control man, but he had dropped his radio. I was trying to make contact with my chauffeur, but I forgot we were on Channel 3 and he was still on Channel 1. After a while, I switched back over to Channel 1 and I was able to contact the chauffeur, and the control man was with him.
They were pushing us up north, up West Street. And we all regrouped by Stuyvesant High School.
As soon as we sat down, I got all the gear off and we’re taking a blow, someone came running out of the high school saying there was a bomb in the building, so we ran further north. That’s pretty much it for the rest of the day. They wouldn’t let us back in.