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On Aug. 18, 2007, FDNY firefighters from lower Manhattan responded to Box 47 for a fire at 130 Liberty St. New York City firefighters know this building all to well. Once 41 stories tall, now reduced to 26 as it's in the process of being demolished, the Deutsche Bank building stands vacant, a vivid reminder of the events that occurred on 9/11/01. The building is across the street from "Ten House," the quarters of Engine 10 and Ladder 10. A memorial wall depicting scenes from the horrible day that killed 343 FDNY members faces the Deutsche Bank building.
A 10-75 (four engines, two ladders, two battalion chiefs, a FAST truck, a rescue, a squad and a division chief) was requested and seconds later a second alarm on arrival was transmitted. The fire was on several of the upper floors. The building had a tremendous gash ripped into it when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. The gaping hole was eventually fixed, but the building — open to the air, smoke and debris — was also a casualty. Mold grew within the building, and the decision was made to demolish the structure, built in 1974. This was financially more feasible than cleaning the building. Because of the smoke, particles, asbestos and other contaminants in the air surrounding the World Trade Center site for months, the neighborhood was up in arms. Not only did residents not believe the city, state and federal officials who were telling them that the air they were breathing was safe, they filed lawsuits and finally the purchase and eventual plans to take the building down were formulated.
Responding firefighters found only two elevators working on the outside of the structure. A freight elevator was located in the rear on the south side. The stairways were closed off between several floors. Heavy plastic and plywood confined several areas on each floor to prevent any contaminants from escaping the building. Plastic was hanging everywhere.
The fire started on an upper floor and eventually spread to portions of 10 floors. The standpipe system either failed or never worked. Firefighters had to eventually stretch handlines up the outside of the building as high as 18 floors. Smoke conditions were bad, so firefighters were using their masks. Within seconds, conditions changed for the worse. Little or no water on the fire, desperate conditions, no way out via stairwells — firefighters looked to get out any way they could. Some made it to the outside scaffolding; otherwise, they might have needed to use their personal safety systems — ropes — to get them off the floor they were on.
Several firefighters heard the PASS devices of the two downed firefighters who apparently ran out of air. Herculean efforts were made by firefighters, themselves out of air, who desperately dragged their unconscious brothers in need to safety. Numerous Mayday signals were sent. Firefighters were in a tough way, floors above the street, in maze-like conditions. Because only one of the outside elevators was working and was the only way up and down, firefighters on the ground had to eagerly await for their chance to help. The elevator was on hold upstairs, waiting to bring the mortally injured down to the street. When the elevator finally made it to street level, firefighters tumbled off, exhausted, blackened and gasping for air. As one firefighter who was there told me, "It was lucky that we didn't lose entire companies upstairs."
An investigation will convene to find out the cause of the fire, why the building was allowed to be transformed in this manner into tomb-like conditions. Questions will be asked about the standpipe system. Procedures will be checked and revisions will be made. A tough situation to handle — one Mayday, let alone numerous requests from firefighters on upper floors of a high rise in dire straits, and no one could quickly gain access to help them, in a building still partially standing as a reminder of the terrorist events of 9/11 that killed thousands of civilians and 343 firefighters. Numerous firefighters have retired on disability incurred while operating at the World Trade Center site. Others are sick and no one knows the eventual effects it will have on those who responded and operated at the site over several months, looking for their brothers.