9-11 Issue Introduction - Part IV

Lieutenant Gregg Hansson
Engine 24
11 1/2 years

The alarm came in and we rode out with one extra firefighter. On the rig were Firefighters Richard Billy, Dan Sterling, Robert Byrne, John Ottotrando and Marcel Claes. We responded down Varick Street - it was a straight run.

There was a good-sized hole in the north tower. It didn't look nearly as bad. I thought it was a small plane. I was confident that we could go up and operate. We parked at West and Vesey streets. This was the same position as in 1993. We took our three 50-foot sections (rollups) of hose into the lobby. Deputy Chief Hayden was there, and we heard him tell one of the Port Authority people he wanted both towers evacuated.

There were no elevators working. All the glass on the west side of the lobby was broken out. We were standing next to the crew of Ladder 20. We followed them to the southeast corner and entered the A stairs. There were a lot of people self-evacuating. We got the people to come down single file just so we could go up the stairs. We interviewed people as they past us - What floor were you coming from? What were the conditions? People said they were coming from the 20s, 30s and 40s.

Around the 20th floor a person said he had come from the 90th floor. He saw fire. A girl with him had blood on her shirt. She was asthmatic and was having an anxiety attack. We also heard urgent messages with firefighters reporting chest pains. I realized our own guys were having chest pains. I saw a woman who had suffered burns to her arms.

We continued up to floor 27. I left a firefighter with a man in a wheelchair. I told the firefighter to stay with him, if you get help, take him out. Three other firefighters remained with me. We heard Captain Pat Brown from Ladder 3 giving a message about a collapse in the 60s. We heard other firefighters calling Ladder 3.

At the 35th floor we caught up with Ladder 20. We stopped for a break. On this floor was Engine 24, 33, Ladder 20 and 5 and the 11th Battalion. We were waiting to proceed up. We decided to take half of the rollups. There was a person getting oxygen from two EMS workers. Over the chief's radio, which was on the command channel, we heard the order to evacuate. The chief had a megaphone. We saw Ladder 5 go to the B stairs.

Suddenly the building started to shake. The chief was screaming to get into the stairwell. Lieutenant John Fischer of Ladder 20 went to get his guys, who were one or two floors above. We went down and found the firefighter we left with the person in the wheelchair. One of the firefighters said he left his mask on the 35th floor. I said leave it, just get out.

Captain Burke from Engine 21 was with his company. They said they were going to take the handicapped person and another civilian down with them. There were no elevators. Captain Burke decided to take these people down. We stopped at the 19th floor. There were 10 firefighters and eight civilians. I told them, you have to get out.

At the third floor we were stopped by Firefighter Pat Kelly from Squad 18, who needed help getting a civilian out. The stairway was blocked. We transferred to another stairway. We finally made it outside. There was 10 to 15 feet of visibility. We were standing under the overhang of building 6, the Customs House. We heard a thunderous roar. Next, it got pitch black. Everybody scattered. I didn't know it was the tower coming down.

I was hit by a lot of debris, concrete. I had dropped my mask when I left the building. I was trying to crawl on my belly. A police officer was shining his light, which way to go. I found Firefighter Byrne. Firefighter Billy was giving a Mayday. I tried to call, there was no response. There wasn't anybody around. I tried to use a truck radio. I met a Safety Chief in an ambulance and told him both towers had come down. Finally, we made it to Engine 7/Ladder 1, which was being used as a triage area.

Firefighter Marcel Claes
Engine 24
12 years

Civilians were helping each other out as we walked up the stairs in the north tower. We stopped to take a break on the 35th floor. We heard a rumble. We thought the upper floors might have collapsed. There was a chief with us and he said drop everything and get out, twice. On the way down, I saw the Second Battalion aide, Faustino Apostel Jr., on the 10th floor. Below that there was a woman walking one step at a time. She was being helped by Ladder 6.

I finally made it to the lobby. I was surprised to see so much debris. Someone said go out the way we came in. A building employee was looking up. We ran outside. I remember seeing Ladder 8 or Ladder 18 on the corner. We went out to the middle of West Street and saw the debris on the ground. We watched three people jump. The north and west sides of Tower 1 were totally involved. I was confused. I said is this really happening? The building started to come down. We ran north on West Street. The dust was passing us. I ran behind an engine. It was total darkness. Something hot went down my shirt. I was gagging on the dust. No one from the company was with me. I went back down the street to an engine that was still running. This engine was being supplied by another engine.

Firefighters started to take lines off. There were many rigs on fire. Lines were stretched to the Customs House. They were searching in there. They used the booster tank water from one engine, and then Engine 239 resupplied that unit. Lines were hooked up to Tower Ladder 12. Someone was using a stang nozzle but they didn't have much pressure.

We were kept away from building 7 because of the potential of collapse. I felt sick. I had my eyes flushed out. I saw firefighters who told me Engine 24 made it out, but Ladder 5 was missing. I walked back to the firehouse of Engine 24/Ladder 5.

FDNY Photo
Bill Wall

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.

Photo Courtesy of FEMA
Looking north, the south pedestrian bridge (A) is visible and the north bridge (B) is covered in debris. Also shown is the damage to building 5 (C) and building 6 (D), and the location where building 7 (E) collapsed. The firehouse of 10/10 (F) is located across the street from the south tower. The building at 90 West Street caught fire (G).

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.

Firefighter Tom Caruso
Ladder 48
6 1/2 years

I was on a 90-day detail to Engine 3. I was at 7th Avenue and Grove Street. I heard the explosion and ran out into the street and saw that a jet hit the Trade Center. I made it back to Engine 3 to get my gear. I jumped on a Con-Ed electric truck and was brought to the scene. I held my helmet out the window and the police let us through.

About three blocks away, I jumped out. At this time, both towers were burning. I took an airpack off a rig and found a halligan tool. I went into the north tower with a makeshift group of firefighters with a captain. A woman jumper hit a man about 35 feet away from us. I saw eight or nine people jump. I was amazed by it.

People were coming down the escalators near West Street. We made it into a stairway. There were numerous people coming down. It was tough going. I heard a transmission about the south tower suffering a partial collapse. We were still walking up. I think we were at the 11th floor. People were still coming down. In another minute or two we came down.

The lobby was pitch black. We were fumbling around. I tried a dozen times to get out. Finally outside I saw Ladder 12 with their bucket up. Then the north tower came down. I was on the opposite side of West Street. I heard the rumbling. I ran to a building and threw my halligan tool through the plate glass window. A whole bunch of people ran inside. It was pitch black. I could see the silhouette of a rig in flames.

We stayed in the store for a few minutes because of the dust. There was an eerie silence. We asked each other who's here? Three or four engines were burning. Ladders 5 and 12 were smashed. Engine 3 was on the southbound side of the street and was all right. The high-rise unit was smashed under the north pedestrian bridge. We heard a Mayday given by a member of a ladder company.

When I ran into the scene, I never expected the towers would come down. My best friend, Firefighter Sergio Villanueva of Ladder 132, was killed.