WTC: This Is Their Story - Part IV

I went to go look for Joe. There was a place for parking cars, park-and-ride, on the corner of Liberty Street. There were a couple of cars on fire. People were saying that they thought there might have been people in the cars, so I made my way over there. Joe was coming down. We started checking cars. The debris coming down was tremendous. It was a tremendous amount of stuff falling, more so off Tower 2 than Tower 1. Building debris, plane parts, paper, a lot of coverings over the exterior.

Some stuff was sailing. Some of the covers came down, they floated. So actually if one was coming at you, you had some time to act. But then for the most part, some of them came down like dive bombers. I guess maybe the wind just caught them. One car in particular was really roaring. It looked like the door was open, like somebody had been driving it in and that was the car we were trying to make our way over to. It was right by the south tower pedestrian bridge that went across West Street. There was a concrete wall there. You couldn't climb over, you had to go around. When I went around, I was at Albany making my way to Cedar when a fireman came around the block from Cedar and said to me all EMS ambulances were going from the northbound lane into the southbound lane to continue north and they were bringing them down Liberty and lining them all up in here. That's why I put the TAC out of the way.

Then some kid yelled to me. He said we need an ambulance, we need an ambulance, we got somebody down. I walked back to Albany, grabbed the first EMS ambulance. The guy shot passed me. He stopped just before Cedar in front of 90 West. As I was walking back down, the guy says yeah, we had a fireman down and it turned out to be a guy from an engine company. Two or three guys had him and they were dragging him. It looked like something out of Vietnam, where you're looking for a sniper or something that's picking guys off.

We went over to the building at 90 West, which was under renovation. They had the scaffolding around all four sides of the building. We started CPR. The backboard came. We really weren't in too much of harm's way as far as debris coming down because we had the scaffolding over us protecting us, but we didn't know what else was happening.

They put him on a gurney and they got him in the ambulance. I got a paramedic off one of the private ambulances to jump in there with him. Then they took off for Bellevue Hospital.

Our gear was all over the place - masks, helmets, turnout coats. We tried to regroup. There was a bunch of about five or six people in the lobby. They had come out and asked if everybody was all right. I think they saw the look on our face. Now we realized that we had lost a guy, so some of us were kind of out of it. So they said, Can we get you a drink of water, can we do anything?

We went in the lobby to start getting dressed. I just was going to throw some water on my face and a guy says, Come on, I got a bathroom over here. It turns out we're on the second floor. When he got me in the elevator, he went up to the 13 floor, of all numbers to pick, and I was like, the heck with this, maybe just go down. I said let me just throw some water on my face.

Something was wrong. I wasn't having a heart attack or anything, I just didn't feel right. All of a sudden, there was like a rush of air. All the air left the building. You heard this explosion. There was a rumbling noise and the building we were in shook. All the ceiling tiles fell off. The lights went out. I thought the building collapsed. I thought the building had been hit by something. We proceeded to get out of the building. When we got down toward the lobby, it was on fire. They had made sort of a triage center right in front of 90 West, with all ambulances. It wasn't until maybe 10, 15 minutes later when I finally made my way out of the building that I realized that every ambulance they had parked there was destroyed, was on fire. Some were flipped over or on top of each other. There were at least a dozen of them. Any rig that was in the street was gone.

I never made it to the lobby. It was too dark and I didn't have a flashlight. I couldn't see. It was getting a little hot. And I went back up. All the floors were locked. Finally, around the fifth or sixth floor, I said here I am, I'm stuck in the staircase. I had no tool with me.

I made my way back up and finally on the fifth or sixth floor, I got in and then found all the people that had been in the lobby had fled to that floor. We opened some windows. I think the most ironic part was that by myself, I opened the window up, thought I was looking at exposure 2 between two buildings. I didn't realize until Wednesday that I actually was looking at West Street, but it was so dark and the dust had filled this netting that was protecting the building that it made it look like there was another building there.

We made our way to the street. Another fireman came from somewhere and he tapped me on the shoulder, he goes, come on. We were just standing there in shock. The whole street - the south tower was down. It was an unbelievable sight. I knew something had happened, but I didn't realize the whole tower had come down. They had given the transmission of a major collapse, but I figured maybe from whatever floor that plane had hit had fallen off, never expecting to see that.

From debris or rigs, the whole street was on fire. Oxygen bottles were exploding in the ambulances. Relief valves were letting go. We proceeded south one block to the Marriott Hotel and we went in the lobby. There must have been about a dozen guys just making their way in. They were all covered in dust. Nobody was from the same company. We sat there for about maybe five minutes, regrouped. A couple of guys were using the elevator phone to call home. In fact, one guy got my phone number and called his wife, who called my wife to let her know that I was all right after the first collapse.

We came out. I think it was Chief Casper we heard on the radio calling for all the rescues and squads to the command center. I was trying to make my way to the command center, trying to figure out where it was. You couldn't go north. You had to walk across the street. We hadn't gone about a block and we heard this loud, rumbling noise. It was the north tower coming down.

We stepped into a building, but it was closed. There was a gate and we got in, there was a column. I got under a column, covered my face. As noise started to subside, we tried to make a run for it. We made the turn and as we were running, you could hear this loud noise coming - it was the dust cloud coming down and within two seconds, it had passed us and the whole block filled up.

If I was a step slower, it probably would have gotten me. I was getting ready to dive under a car. I saw an entrance to a building and a woman saw me from inside the glass. She yelled, open it, she's screaming open the door, here comes a fireman, open the door. The guy, without hesitating, opened the door. One, two, I stepped in, and three, he closed it and then it was like the end of the world. It was just like you looked out, it was pitch black. If there was anybody out there, you couldn't see them. You saw paper flying by.

There were no radio transmissions. I had a citywide radio. I switched to Manhattan and you could hear Manhattan calling the command center. Nobody was answering, just kept calling them, beeping. I switched to citywide. I think citywide was calling. Nobody was answering. Then all of a sudden, they got a hold of one of the chiefs coming down, said listen, when you get there, you have someone monitor the radio. The problem was I guess there was nobody left to monitor the radios. Everybody sat in there. There was about five or six of us. Everybody just was in shock. Then within like maybe 10, 20 minutes, you started hearing Maydays, urgents, guys trapped.

I remember hearing them. The loudest one was 65 Engine we could hear. And then the one with Fuentes trapped in his car. Fuentes was the tough one. They were trying to figure out where he was, where he was in the car. I talked to Jack Flatley in Rescue 1. He found him. He wasn't in a car. He was just under debris. He had the super radio with him. That's how he was; everybody else thought it was a car. Yeah, he actually found him someplace over there, more toward the middle of the street. He was under one of those pieces of flashing you saw coming down. Flatley didn't have a radio. He said he had a tremendous gash, semiconscious, and he says can you help me get you out? He really couldn't. Then the marine company guys came and they helped him get him out.

We started walking. Steve Mockler was one of the first guys I saw. I remember on the radio transmissions of Rescue 3, I remember Ralph Tiso. I remember hearing his voice on the radio responding with guys from the Rock, trying to find out where he wanted them, but nobody was giving him anything.

And then we just proceeded to walk. An off-duty firefighter from 4 Truck, Danny Manning, found me and he guided me along. I was covered in dust. I was filthy. My hair was like cement. You felt so helpless. There was nothing you could do.

You couldn't go north on West Street, so we went to Liberty, went up to South End Street, walked through the Winter Garden and came out on Vesey. Even in the stores, the floors were covered in dust and paper. Right where the second pedestrian bridge came across, it had ripped out of the building. There was a place were people would sit and eat lunch, it had ripped out, totally collapsed. Walked through to Vesey Street. Everybody just went to that one spot and just hung out there for a while.

Then it was just a question of who showed up and did what. I know they were worried about 7 World Trade Center because now that was burning royally, but they couldn't make their way down the block to put anything on it. For the most part, the chiefs didn't want anybody in it. They decided to let the building just burn and fall to the ground.

Someone came to me and said something about they were looking for a transit to monitor this building. So me and Kevin O'Brien, who was off duty, made our way all the back through there, got the transit, headed back and we set a transit up under 7 World Trade Center. And that was really it.

I saw TAC 2 cut in half, all the rigs just basically crushed, big aerial tower ladders. There was one point in time I was sitting on I think it was a mask service truck and it was like as flat as a pancake. Someone finally said to someone who was sitting next to us, do you realize that's a mask service unit? The destruction was just totally I mean when we first got there, we knew we were there for the day.

I didn't expect the tower to collapse like it did. I expected especially with the south tower, Tower 2, that the upper part of the tower would have tumbled over like it started to do, not realizing that it was constructed to pancake on itself. It wasn't a long, drawn-out collapse. It came down real fast. All my years of going to building collapses and seeing buildings with Rescue 3 at the Collapse Unit, and studying building collapses, this is just phenomenal, both of them. I could see if one came down, but both of them coming down is mind boggling.

We're sitting there trying to figure out how many guys didn't make it. Everybody was throwing numbers around like we're probably missing 100 guys, maybe more. And then hearing it was over 300 guys. And then while you're there, you're finding out that they pulled out Ganci's body. They pulled out Feehan's body. We heard right off the bat that the chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, had had a heart attack and died.

FDNY Photo
Dan Williams

Lieutenant Dan Williams Ladder 16
25 years

One of the guys put the TV on and the housewatch said a plane flew into the tower. You know, everybody's thinking it's a small plane. Go out, take a look. Oh, this isn't good, it's something big, so I was telling the day crew that's coming in, go change because we're going to be going.

I was taking a look at the rig, doing my own visual inspection of the rig to make sure we've got everything, when the guy on the watch yells, another one just hit the towers. Now you know for a fact it's a terrorist thing.

At approximately 9:10, we got the response as an additional unit on the fifth alarm. Four guys tried to get on the rig prior to us leaving and I told them, get off the rig. I'm only taking the day crew, the guys on the riding list. We convoyed down with the 10th Battalion and 13 Truck. When we cleared the midtown high-rises, you could see both towers. I never saw anything like that in my life. Listening to the radio what was going on with the radio traffic, you got the number of occupants trapped and everything else.

We parked approximately two blocks north of the north walkway and proceeded to the command post. They were breaking the engines and the trucks - engines to the right, trucks to the left. We were the last truck left at the command post. A lot of debris was coming down off the towers, and jumpers. I told my members, get back into the loading dock area, stay under cover, while I stood at the command post. I was keeping an eyeball on the towers when I noticed that the south tower is starting to collapse and the only thing I remember is yelling run. Everybody got into the loading dock area, and that dust cloud chased us right in. It was zero visibility in there for a short period of time.

I did a roll call. We're missing one of our members. He didn't answer. So I got the rest of the guys together and proceeded back up the ramp to find our member. We started seeing a number of walking wounded, firefighters and civilians, bleeding, minor injuries. I told the members to start evacuating them through the back of the Financial Center toward the river.

We saw the north tower directly across from us burning. We started fanning out to look for our member. We found an EMS worker who broke his leg, a heavyset fellow, and tried to evacuate him by carrying him out, one guy under each shoulder, but the pain was too intense for him. One of the brothers found a gurney and we put him on that. I start wheeling him into the loading dock area. A member from 6 Truck was saying that he couldn't find his company, so I said, stay with us until I can get radio contact and let him know we got him. We got the EMS worker up on the loading dock and we're wheeling him through. I told my OV man and the man from 6 Truck to put this gentleman in an elevator to get up to the level to get out the rear of the Financial Center. When it was reported to me on the radio that the elevator went down into the subbasement and the lights were flickering, I told them get out of the elevator. I'll go get help, get this guy up the stairs.

As I was on my way up the stairs to get the rest of the members in Ladder 16, I heard a deep rumbling. I thought it was the Financial Center collapsing, the building that we were in. We just balled up behind the stairs. The door flew open. A lot of dust and debris came down the hallway to the next stair. Once it calmed down, I headed up and I found the three members, still missing the one member. I found the other members plus a couple of other members, one from 53 Engine. We proceeded down into the subbasement. We all got a handle on the gurney, got the gentleman up and out of the stairwell and wheeled him across to the marina, where he was loaded onto a police boat and taken to parts unknown.

We walked along the promenade down to I believe it was Liberty Street, where we had three fireboats tied up to the bulkhead. Assistant Commissioner Gregory said he was running the command post and help the guys stretch a 31/2-inch hose down to Liberty. Now you're viewing the whole devastation of the area. We're still looking for one of our members. Everything was in disarray, communication and everything. We headed back north and that's when we ran into the member near the marina. We ran into our the fifth man from Ladder 16. Very happy moment to see him. We proceeded back through the loading dock area, started searching the debris field that was in front of the loading dock area and outward. A couple of the members did do a quick sweep of the Financial Center to see if everybody was out. It's hard to say how long we operated there.

On Vesey Street we found an open restaurant. Nobody there. We just got ourselves rehydrated, drinking a lot of water. We found a phone that was working, so I had the brothers call home to tell somebody that we were all OK. This is when I first got word that 39 Engine was trapped in the north tower.

We proceeded over to the north command post. The chief there said just stand fast, they have companies in there looking for 39. We did run into two of the members earlier from 39 Engine. I guess it was approximately 4 o'clock in the afternoon we were told to head north, check in at the command post up at the Stuyvesant High School. We proceeded north and I was checking in - and that's when Building 7 collapsed. I guess it was about 5, 5:30 at night.

About an hour and a half later, we met up with the guys from the company that were there on recall. We were told by the command post to get on the rig, take the rig home. That was about it.

Firefighter Dan Schoefield Engine 94 (on rotation in Engine 53 on 9/11)
Two years

We responded right to the scene. It was as soon as the second tower got hit, the south tower, as soon as that got hit. We got dispatched at 9:09 and we got to the scene at 9:18. We went through Central Park and down the West Side Highway. We parked south of Stuyvesant High School, but a little north of the towers, about a block. We were walking in with roll-ups and extra bottles. I remember seeing a lot of jumpers and just the whole the plume of smoke was foul.

We made it to the command post. They had engines on one side. It was divided by a center cement curb island, ladder companies on one side, engines on the other and we just got in the back of the line and waited our turn to get our orders. It was probably six or seven engine companies, if I had to guess in front of us. I know we had 44, 22, 39 and I forget the other companies.

We were supposed to go in the south tower. I think 40, 50, 60th floor. I'm pretty sure an even number we were supposed to go to in the south tower. We never made it. We walked just across the street and got to the tower side of the sidewalk and we couldn't get in with the jumpers. And then some chief stopped us and ordered us to go north by Stuyvesant and reposition fire apparatus so we could get an ambulance lane for EMS.

The jumpers were coming down like raindrops. We couldn't just walk in because they would have crushed us. We repositioned about six or eight rigs. The tail ends or the bumpers were sticking out.We just had to jockey and try to parallel park them a little better than they were left.

We went back to the command post. We walked to the front and the officer got our new orders. As soon as we got the orders, 10 seconds later, the ground start rumbling and the roar started and that was it. I made a left and ran north. Everyone - civilians, fire - you just ran your own way. I ran north on West and I ran into a lobby of a building. Somebody said I was in the Winter Garden. I don't know what the Winter Garden was, but wherever I went in, there was a giant atrium and there was stuff landing on top of the atrium and falling on the sides of it, so I decided I would rather be in the street than in a big glass enclosure. I went back into the street and just ran. It caught up to me eventually and that was it. The facepiece, everything got covered. I just was in the street, laying in the street. I got up and was screaming for guys in the company like 53 Engine and nobody was answering. Then I was going towards Stuyvesant High School and about a block or two maybe, the dust was a little thinner where you could at least see and get your bearings.

I found a guy from Brooklyn, I forget what company, a Queens guy and there was just guys like you were walking around like shell-shocked. You just had a stare on and just wandered.We got together and then we started heading back towards the north tower to see if we could help look for victims or firefighters that were trapped. And then we got there. We did a little bit, but there was no real command at that point. I think four or five of us we just self evacuated after a while. We said, let's get out of this rubble because that's one's going to come down. When that north one started to rumble, we were about a half a block away when that one let loose. We ran back, right, north. That time we just ran up whatever street. I guess the end of the West Side Highway, whatever that turns into. We just ran north on that street back by Stuyvesant and the community college that was there.

The bunch of us we just outran that one and the dust never caught us. Sometime later, I caught up with the guys from 53 Engine. Everybody was OK, the six of us, five other guys. Somebody, we don't know who, it wasn't our chauffeur, had repositioned 53 Engine and it was parked right by the water. It was pumping from one of our marine units to tower ladders. We ended up meeting by Stuyvesant High School, by that center divider that was in the island, and the six of us just stayed together.

It was unbelievable. The one time we were in the rubble pile, we were probably 20 or 30 feet on the rubble pile above one of our ladders that was a tiller rig and it was overturned and it looked like a kid's toy fire truck. It didn't look like an apparatus. We were above it on the rubble, 20 feet above.

Just the whole scene, the devastation it was like it was unreal, the size of the steel, the gauge of the steel, the dust. Ambulances, police cars, our rescue trucks, it was just phenomenal the devastation of it, the buildings, the whole area. It was just unrecognizable. All the street signs were gone. You just didn't know where you were. You were in a big gray area.

Firefighter Rich Rattazzi Ladder 16
Three years

I worked the night tour and got off in the morning. Engine 39 responded with high-rise unit 2. Ladder 16 was assigned and the lieutenant wouldn't let anyone who was not working get on the rig. A few minutes later, the recall was announced.

I responded in the back of a police car with two other members. We had found two spare mask brackets, but no cylinders. We arrived and found Ladder 16. We took two spare cylinders to make complete masks. Another complete mask was found on another rig. We passed under the north pedestrian bridge. The south tower collapsed and hit the center of the Marriott. We dove under rigs. We couldn't breathe or see. I heard someone yelling for help. I located a civilian and brought the person out to Vesey Street. I walked into the back of a rig, that's how dark it was. The dust started to lift. How was I going to meet up with the two firefighters I came with?

I saw the chauffeur of Engine 39, he had a broken shoulder. I walked him to EMS and came back. I looked at the rigs and heard PASS devices going off. I saw a lot of firefighters, but none from Ladder 16. Apparently, Ladder 16 was the last truck at the command post and was held there when the collapse occurred. Someone said Ladder 16 was in the subcellar helping remove an injured person. I saw a man throw a chair through a window on the floor below the top. Don't jump, people were yelling, we'll get someone to help you.

I was near a parking lot at West and Vesey when the second tower collapsed. I ran up the street and was blown five feet off my feet. I was near the atrium area of a building. The glass doors were open and I ducked inside. I shut the doors behind me. A wall of black came down the street like a twister. Ten civilians came running through looking for a way out.

I met two firefighters from Queens. I told them I was missing two guys. I saw a cameraman who had a broken leg. He was going in and out of consciousness. I went up Vesey Street to get a backboard and grabbed two EMS workers. It took about 20 minutes to travel a half block because of the debris. I finally went to the Hudson River to get some assistance. I drank something, was given oxygen and had my eyes flushed.