New Book Lets FDNY Bravest Tell Story of 9/11

Instead of simply telling stories about what happened that day, "WTC In Their Own Words" lets the heroes and survivors -- members of FDNY -- describe their experiences.


There have been numerous books written about the events about the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

But, the one written by Firehouse Magazine Editor Harvey Eisner is unique.

Instead of simply telling stories about what happened that day, the heroes and survivors -- members of FDNY -- describe their experiences. They share raw emotions and give graphic testimony about being at the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

It's one of those reads that's impossible to put down once you've opened the cover. Each page offers a personal remembrance.

At Firehouse Expo this week in Baltimore, Eisner is signing copies of his book. "WTC In Their Own Words."

For the veteran firefighter, the project was a labor of love.

"I want people 20 or 30 years from now who ask what happened that day to get a real idea what took place. I want them to know about the firefighters and what they did."

Eisner said he couldn't have captured the stories without the help of many folks. "They would tell me a story involving a firefighter, and tell me to talk to them. Many times they would help open the door for me."

Getting the men to talk wasn't difficult. "Since I was writing in a notebook, I often had to tell them to slow down a little bit," he said with a laugh. "Once they got going, they just kept going and going and going."

Eisner felt honored to hear their stories, and equally moved to share them.

The titles of the individual segments involve some specific aspect of the incident.

"Take Cover" involves orders to evacuate that some crews heard and others didn't.

Eisner said many he interviewed heard the 'Maydays' or 'Urgents.'

Firefighter Mike Cancel recalled hearing about the second jet coming in over his radio. He was on the 31st floor.

"An FBI agent came by and said a second plane is coming, brace for impact."

He and a number of people ran into a hall and leaned against a wall. "We were aware that something hit."

As he spoke about the stories shared, the emotions that came rolling out as the firefighters remembered solemn moments, it was evident that the author was moved.

He spoke with Firefighter Anthony Castagna, who was at Hazmat Company 1 in Queens when a colleague, Firefighter Kevin Smith, yelled to him that a plane had hit the tower.

"I said yeah, right.I called the Queens' dispatcher on the department phone. I gave him a verbal alarm for a plane into the World Trade Center. The dispatcher said we don't have anything on that. I said, no, I'm not asking you. I'm telling you. We can see it."

Castagna survived that day because he was following orders.

Eisner started documenting the stories of the 9/11 heroes shortly after the incident. The 65 interviews appeared in 13 issues of Firehouse Magazine.

He has stacks and stacks and stacks of notebooks jammed with handwritten notes. And, there also are many, many tape recordings. He went back to those notes and revisited some of the folks he spoke with before. And, he made new contacts to compile the book.

As he talks about his conversations and shares their stories, it's quite evident that Eisner feels it was a privilege to be privy to it all.