WTC: This Is Their Story - Part III

Firefighter Jimmy Guidice Engine 94
Seven years

I worked the night before and saw the coverage on television. We were dispatched to Engine 35 in Manhattan as a staging area with Engine 50, 64 and 83. Inside the firehouse we heard the Pentagon had been attacked. The engines were on East 124th Street. We refueled the rig. We were part of five engines dispatched. We all called our wives on the way downtown. We parked on West Street. We were carrying our rollups and our standpipe kit.

We were about one or two blocks away when the tower came down. We ran - the dust was 12 stories high - and we ducked into a storefront. It was totally dark. We were covered in debris. I was throwing up; so was Dominick Carrone. The probie jumped into a van that was going by and headed north. The next time we saw him he was clean and we were filthy.

You could only hear PASS devices activating, there were no conversations. Everyone was stunned. I thanked God that I was all right. People started coming out who needed our help. A firefighter who was bleeding was carried past us. We helped Pat Carey from Engine 74 and a civilian who had a broken leg into an ambulance. We saw Chief Telesca being carried by two firefighters.

You could hear other collapses. There was no command post, and there was an absence of communications. Someone called the firehouse and told them to write on the blackboard that we had survived the collapse and we're all accounted for.

We were near building 7 when it collapsed later. We had just seen a civilian carrying fire tools and clothing and placing them in a van. He had apparently stolen the items off apparatus. We just grabbed him when building 7 collapsed. We ran to safety, and the last we saw the police had him in custody after the collapse.

When we arrived, we had no hesitation. We were going to walk in and do what we had to do when the building came down. I had worked on the rotation in Engine 40 and Ladder 35 - 11 members were killed in that house.

Firefighter Dan Potter Ladder 31 (was detailed to Ladder 10 on 9/11)
19 years

I took a detail to Ladder 10, as they were looking for senior people to work in lower Manhattan. I live only a few blocks from the World Trade Center. Ladder 10 is located across the street from the south tower. I was in a promotional class on Staten Island with Lieutenant Harvey Harrell of Rescue 5. Someone came into class and said that a jet had struck the World Trade Center. You could see smoke. My wife works in one of the towers.

Firehouse Collection
Tower Ladder 124 from Brooklyn operates on Liberty Street near the firehouse of Engine 10/Ladder 10. Note the damage across the street. The apparatus remained in this position for three days.

I left class and got in the high-occupancy lane on the highway. As I approached Albany and West streets, body parts were all over the area. An ambulance was nearby that had been hit by pieces of the aircraft. I saw Ladder 4 across the street near the south tower. I met Captain Mallory of Ladder 10. I asked him to get some spare tools out of the equipment locker. Firefighter Pete Bielfeld of Ladder 42 came in and borrowed some gear. Pete asked if I was ready to go, I said I'm waiting to get some tools.

A civilian was injured and I helped him inside the apparatus floor. The doors were open. The south tower collapsed. The wind and dust blew through the firehouse. I covered the man as best as I could. I could hardly breathe. I was able to get the man into the kitchen in the rear. The force of the wind blew out the kitchen windows. I left the man for EMS.

I went out the back door of the firehouse and into the large bank in a high-rise across the street. I knew there was a day care center there. There was a lot of damage to the lobby. I met Fire Marshal Mel Hazel inside. I was in the company, Ladder 31, before my detail that Hazel also used to be in at one time.

A cop came by and said the other tower is going to go. We braced up against an interior wall. When we made it out into the street, it was pitch black. There were cars on fire. I saw Ladder 113 and several ambulances on fire. Captain Paul Heglin said, let's start putting some of these car fires out. My wife was on the 40th floor of the north tower when the south tower got hit. She cleared the area before the first tower collapsed. She walked to Engine 9/Ladder 6 on Canal Street.

I found Ladder 10's rig. The aerial ladder was flayed. Some of the aluminum ladders had melted and dripped. The entire rig was five feet high. There were heavy steel beams on the rig. The diamond plate was right on the ground. We used a search cam to check if anybody was under the rig. On the second day, it was reported that one of the high-rises, 1 Liberty Plaza, may fall. The area was evacuated three times.

Inside the firehouse of Engine 10 and Ladder 10, a triage center was set up. EMS supplies were stocked. A lot of debris hit the roof of the firehouse. That was cleaned and the roof was used as an observation post. The glass on the windows in the pole hole doors was blown inward.

Firefighter Robert Chyriwski Engine 3
13 years

I responded with Engine 3 and the high-rise unit. Two firefighters rode on the second piece. Near Canal Street we were told to stage on West Street. There was chaos where to position the high-rise unit. I drove the engine further south on West Street near the south tower to turn around.

As I made my turn, I heard a tremendous explosion. That is when the second jet crashed into the south tower. Chief Ganci then said clear a lane for ambulances. The high-rise unit was positioned under the north pedestrian bridge. They hooked up with high-rise 2 and Engine 39.

As we removed the ramp from the unit, we were going to position the 100 spare air cylinders on the street, the mayor and fire commissioner walked by to the new command post by the World Financial Center. I looked up and said we can't do anything. Who knows what is going to happen? A few minutes later, the first tower came down. We heard the roar and we tried to outrun the dust cloud. We helped injured firefighters and civilians onto ferryboats to be taken to New Jersey for treatment.

Firefighter Rad Ocasio Special Operations Command
20 years

I was assigned to OAD (Officer Assignment Desk), also decon, the dewatering unit, working a 24-hour tour Sept. 11. A firefighter came running into the office about 8:45, 8:50, right after the first plane hit, and a couple of guys were screaming. One of them was Firefighter John McGinty. The first thing out of his mouth was a plane just ran into the World Trade Center.

At that point, Chief Ray Downey walked into the office. He says I'm taking John to drive me down to the World Trade Center. He then backed out of the office and he got his chiefs together. At that point, Lieutenant McQuade told everybody to stay back in SOC while all the chiefs left until we get an update as to what was going on. I would say approximately anywhere from seven to 10 minutes later, the second plane hit.

Now there was total pandemonium. At that point, I simply looked the guys in the eyes and I told them this is no accident when you have a sunny day like that outside. I said this is an act of terrorism, gentlemen, welcome to the real world. They look at me startled.

Then Lieutenant McQuade asked me to grab Chief Charlie Casper's bunker gear, his turnout gear, and take it down to the World Trade Center because he was going to respond with Rescue 5 to the site. My orders were specifically to respond to Liberty and West. That will be forever imprinted in my mind. I remember looking at Lieutenant McQuade and saying I'm going to take my bunker gear and I will give them a hand down there. He said you will take your bunker gear, you will go down there, you will find Chief Casper, Chief Downey, you will hand them their bunker gear and I need you back here. I said aye, sir. I could not find Chief Casper's equipment, so I ended up grabbing some of Chief Segal's equipment to take to Chief Casper. That delay of about anywhere from three to five minutes I think saved my life.

I jumped on one of the responding rigs we have here along with Firefighter Jack Rooney from Rescue 3 and we proceeded down 57th Street, at which time we made a left on Fifth Avenue and we went with full sirens going and lights going down Fifth Avenue to get everybody out of the way. I remember telling Jack Rooney, look at the north tower. You can see it going down Fifth Avenue. I said look at the north tower, it's burning. He says, of course, it's burning, Rad, it's a fire. I said no, you don't seem to understand, that thing seems like it's jumping. Every 60 seconds it's taking out another floor. We couldn't see the south tower. We could only see the north tower.

Traffic was chaotic, but we did the best we could getting down there. We parked on Vesey and West. We could go no further for the simple reason that there was just too many rigs parked. They were blocking the street.

My specific orders were to go to Liberty. I remember getting on the radio and calling on the radio for Chief Downey or somebody from SOC. They might then come tell me where to report. I knew we had to go to Liberty and West, that was where the command post was set up. There was so much radio transmission and chaos going on now. We finally got a transmission, told us stay right there. John McGinty found his way back to us and he grabbed all of Chief Casper's equipment and he headed back to the building. I asked John, where are we rendezvousing? He said to me the south tower, everybody's in the south tower. The command post is right by the firehouse.

I found a helmet, some extra equipment, some bunker gear that he had left behind that I had to take to one of the chiefs there also, and I proceeded to Liberty and West, running down the street. I remember as I was going down the street, stopping just slightly south of the north tower on West Street. Now I kept hearing this explosion sound. And I looked to my right and I had one of the Scott packs and some of the equipment. As I looked to my right, there was a police officer standing there. He looked totally startled and he kept staring up and looking down, staring up. And I said to him, are you all right? He said you'd better move away from that wall and I asked why? He said people are jumping from that building. I said you've got to be kidding. He said you'd better move, here comes another one. And as I looked up, here came a body flying down. I heard this explosion sound. It pops - Pow! - when it hit the floor.

I was standing on West Street with the cop right on West Street, right past Vesey facing the north tower, on the actual street where the cars were at right off the sidewalk, on the northbound side. They were hitting the sidewalk as they came down. And I remember watching a lady come down and she just exploded.

I would say I was anywhere from with in seven to 10 feet of the bodies. They were hitting. He was telling me, you better move over, they were landing there. So as I looked to the other side like this and I took a step over, I saw just a bunch of mangled bodies on the floor as they hit.

I told him I'm going to do you a favor. See that fire truck there? He said yeah. It was a truck company. I said I'm going to move that fire truck up, you just watch and make sure nobody lands on the cab. You see somebody coming down, tell me, and I'll slide over on the seat. He said no problem. I said I'm going to cover these bodies up so you don't have to stand here and look at it. He said would you? I said sure, no problem. I remember jumping in the rig and moving that truck over.

The only thing I remember is that truck saved my life because as I looked out the side of the truck to see the bodies that were hitting, I looked, I counted 19 bodies. Nineteen bodies and they were still coming down. When I came out of the truck, I told that cop there are 19 bodies. He said there are going to be a lot more, here come two more. So, anyway, he said thank you. I kept walking to Liberty with the equipment. As I got to Liberty, I made a left on Liberty and I worked my way up Liberty heading toward the south tower where I understand the rest of the firefighters were and Chief Downey was at just to drop off the equipment I had. As I got there to the south tower, I put this equipment down in the lobby and told the firemen here's the equipment we needed.

I started to come back down because I remember I had to get back to SOC. Lieutenant McQuade had told me report back. As I made Liberty and West, the south tower started to come down. I heard a vicious cracking noise and then as I looked up, that building was already coming down. There was massive screaming and pandemonium.

I turned right on West and started running, trying to outrun the building coming down. No sooner did I look to my right and back, that black gushing sound just started rushing at me - all that junk, whatever, was hitting the floor, was rushing at me. And I knew at that point I could not outrun that. As I kept running, there was a young fireman on my left-hand side. He was running parallel to me and he was totally frantic. I reached to my side, grabbed him by the right arm with my left arm and I specifically told him get under that fire truck, jump under that fire truck. He looked at me. He screamed and he said let me go and he pulled his hand away. And I remember I dove under the fire truck. I crawled behind the second set of wheels of that truck company, near the curb, and I got in a fetal position. The last thing that went through my mind was simply I'll be dead in 30 seconds. I said I'm not making this one. I said in 30 seconds, I'll be dead.

Then I remember hearing a vicious whooshing sound. I remember hearing steel bending, massive steel, and things hitting the floor and cracking and smashing sound and just a roar, a deafening roar. Then you had this storm like effect of wind blowing so much dust through you. And then a dead silence set upon us. I mean you couldn't hear anything at all. I crawled out from under the truck. It was the very truck I moved. The truck saved my life. And one way I know it was that truck because when I crawled out of it, I says wow, it's the truck - the front of the truck at that cab was smashed, totally smashed, and it stops being smashed in front of the tires which I was laying down behind. It's incredible.

As I start to come out, I had trouble breathing. I was choking. My air passage was clogged, so I stuck my fingers in my mouth and forced myself to throw up all the dust and stuff. As I did that, I remember I collapsed on the floor. Then I got up and I couldn't feel myself walking. And I knew I was walking north on West because I had just crawled out from under the fire truck, the truck company. As I'm walking, I tripped on something. I felt my way around and I got up again, started walking, and I walked and walked and walked. And then I tripped again, and I realized I was weak.

I started crawling and I heard somebody screaming. It was an EMS worker, and he told me, keep coming, keep coming. He happened to be a block away. When I finally made to it to him, I collapsed and he grabbed me and picked me up. He says you're one lucky guy. I asked him why. He says have you looked behind you? I said no. As I stared back, I realized there was no one behind me. I was the only one who walked out of there, but the north tower was still up.

They took my vitals. They checked me out. I remember that EMS worker said to a lady who was also an EMS worker - they put water on my head, they rinsed out my eyes - and they simply said this guy goes to St. Vincent's, take him to St. Vincent's. And I said why do I have to go to St. Vincent's? I'm fine. I stood up. He said no, you're going to St.Vincent's, you've got to go to the trauma center. I said I ain't going nowhere, I'm going to go back and look for my buddies. I said a lot of my guys are hurt and trapped back there. He says to me, no, you're not. And I said to him, you're not stopping me.

I found my way back to the truck which I had left on Vesey, got the rest of the equipment we had there, started now to head to where I knew Liberty was, Liberty and West, and the south tower. Then as I was walking there, I realized that what I had tripped over was the fireman that pulled away from me. He didn't make it.

I didn't quite get back to Liberty and West. There was an opening in between the building that collapsed. I was able to find my way up through that way there and head through the north tower. I must have got about 15 feet from West Street as I was crawling up going towards the north tower and I remember spotting Ray Downey in this huge spiral. He was walking back toward the north tower.

Once again, I heard this massive cracking sound. And as I looked up, there was the north tower coming down. And as the north tower started to come down, Chief Downey simply glanced to his left. As he looked, our eyes met. And to this day I always remember he looked at me from a distance and just simply gave me a scramble sign, he just waved his hand. I turned. I wasn't going to question him. I couldn't question him anyway. He was too far, but I know exactly what that signal meant and then figuring he's going into the building, that's where he'll seek safe haven. I turned and I ran left on West and I could only go as far as about maybe 50 feet and there just happened to be a car there. I'll never forget the color of that car was white.

I crawled under that car. I heard that building come down, the horrific sound of cracking steel, metal breaking. I was very peaceful. I thought that the car would just crush me and that's it. I felt less safe under that car than I did under the fire truck. Anyway, I was there. I remember it had to be anywhere from three to five minutes.

When I finally found my way out of there, I moved all that dust or dirt, whatever it was that came out of that building. I pushed it all out of the way. I found my way out of that car. I remember I was drenched in this white dusty powder all over me.

I started to walk, and there was this massive darkness again. As I was walking, I couldn't feel the ground at all. I could not feel the ground, but I had a sense of peace. I couldn't hear anybody. All I heard was just a deafening silent sound. And I just started walking. I knew I had my head up looking up towards the sky like as I was walking. I had trouble breathing and I saw a small light in the distance.

I said wow, what's that light. So I started walking towards that light thinking that's my way out. As I'm walking to the light, I couldn't feel the ground. I figure wow, this is great. And at that point I'm going to admit I thought I crossed the line. I thought I was dead and I didn't feel death. I thought I was actually dead and that was the eternal light that people spoke about because the closer I got to that light, the more at ease I felt. And it was just a sense of peace.

I start approaching the light, and all of a sudden I hear PASS alarms going off from everybody, the mass that were on the ground, the people that had dropped. Maybe they came off of some of the members. I started hearing PASS alarms and I started hearing screaming, moving. And that's when I realized I'm alive. I said I'm in reality here. And all my instincts snapped back in, but at that point, I knew that no one could be helped.

You couldn't see. You couldn't see for about I would say 10 minutes, you couldn't see, unless you walked west because there were buildings there that blocked it. If you walked west, which is what I did, you went through the Winter Garden. There was massive glass. That's the only glass I saw. Got to the other side of that. Now you could see because the buildings blocked a lot of that dust and problem.

All you did was feel and trip. You were at the mercy of the blind man. Your instincts as a firefighter would kick in and I'm going to admit even then, no firefighter has ever been trained for anything like that. Your instinct was to get up and run. Your instinct was to survive. Survive what? You don't know where you were. You thought you were entombed. I thought I was entombed because all you had was a total darkness and from dark you went to a dark, dark gray and it wasn't getting better. It didn't get better until it actually started lifting.

Bodies, there were bodies all over the place. On one of the curbs on West Street, I remember as I was walking back, that I came to get a gang of some of the guys to go search with me because I knew exactly where I had last seen Ray Downey, there was people actually bunched up against the curb. These are high curbs that divide the west side of West Street covered with this dust. They were dead. Whether they came from up there or whether they were running, they were against that curb covered in that dust. McQuade now told me, Rad, stay put, we got guys coming down.

By now, the city was in total recall. I would say anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours later, I found Chief Segal on top of a rig. I asked Chief Segal if he would just take the minute to hear me out, that I knew exactly where I last saw Ray Downey. He says you saw Ray? I said to him yes. And he looked to a guy from Rescue 4 who just happened to be walking by who was standing on the fire truck, and he told that guy, you, grab four firemen, go with this man, he's going to show you where you might find Chief Downey. And I looked at Chief Segal and says you want me to show him? He said yeah. And I says to him, Chief Segal, see that pile? That's a whole building that came down, right about there is where he was standing. Then I remember he said well, show him and I remember showing the guy from Rescue 4. Downey is the only one I last saw. After that, I saw no one, no one. Everybody was dead.

I showed the guys from Rescue 4 that's where the area was. They said OK, we'll take it from here. I simply looked at them and I said these guys will be looking to work an act of miracle because there was no way they were going to move that rubble to get to that man. It's just impossible. You need a lot more manpower and a lot more machinery to get it done.

I stood there giving a hand with guys and lifting bodies out. As far as the SOC guys, I did not see any of my SOC guys I will have to admit until 4, 5 o'clock that afternoon, when I finally was able to get back in contact with the SOC command and they told me yes, Ray Phillips is OK, we heard from him. And I says thank God because I've been looking for him all over the place. And I said how about John McGinty? They said we haven't heard. And all of a sudden, the word came back - John McGinty's fine. He was a nervous wreck. I found John McGinty and I said to him you are one lucky guy to be alive. He said to me no, you're one lucky guy to be alive because I know you were in a worse position than I was. I said John, you were in the building, how did you get out?

Steve Modica, another fireman out of here, he got out. He was on the 34th floor. He scrambled down. He actually ran into the street right before the north tower came down. He survived. I tried looking for Steve Modica. I couldn't rest knowing that I didn't give an effort to find these guys, but these guys had all got out by the grace of God and all survived like myself. I mean Ray Phillips he went east. John McGinty ran west. He got out of the building and ran west after coming out. He lifted some gate. He just survived. He was lucky. He was shaken up very bad. Steve Modica, by the grace of God, he ran down 34 stories, ran outside, and the building started to come down. His only hope was let me just throw myself on the street and hope nothing hits me. And I remember him telling me I laid on the street, flat on the street. He says when everything hit, I got up and I kept running.

It hurts that in a time of panic and people are frantic, that I can reach over and grab a brother fireman and tell him get under this fire truck, which is the very fire truck I moved up to block the view of the police officer watching the bodies hit, and this fireman resisted and pulled away. Yet I tripped over that very fireman coming out and he was dead. That was sad.

I have pictures of all these things in my mind now. We lost four good chiefs there. They were split up into two different towers. My concern was Downey. I knew where Downey was at and how he moved. I mean I have a visual thing in my mind. Charlie Casper, John Moran, Chief Pailillo, these guys were all accounted for inside, but Downey was the guy I saw. Well, we got to get to Downey. I know where John was, got to get to McGinty, can't find him. My mind wouldn't rest until I knew where these guys were, and that was September 11th.

We don't ask why or whatever. We just simply do it. That day, we all showed up, not to help each other, but to help anybody who needed help. We just kept coming and coming in droves. If there would have been just one of us standing there, one of us would have tried to help 10,000 if you could. And that was my instincts, I got to help where I can help.

Firefighter Steven Wright Ladder 16
16 years

We responded behind Engine 22, Ladder 13 and Battalion 10. We parked on West Street and reported to the command post. Walking down the street we could see people jumping. There was talk of a third jet. There were a bunch of companies at the command post. They asked the engines to stand on one side and the trucks on the other. Spare cylinders were in the middle. Ladder 13 was assigned. They were assigning a different channel for each tower.

I heard a noise and looked up and saw the building crumbling. We ran into the garage doors of the loading dock located directly behind the command post. Dust and smoke came in. We were able to come right back out.

There was an EMS worker down. He was a real heavy guy, over 400 pounds. We lifted him on a gurney and were going to bring him through the building and out the rear. We placed him in an elevator and the other members walked upstairs. The elevator went down. The building started to shake. The lights went out. The officer said get out of the elevator. We took him out of the elevator and had to climb three levels to get to the street. The north tower was down. There were two or three inches of dust and papers all over. We placed the EMS worker on a boat so he could receive medical treatment in New Jersey. We then helped stretch 31/2-inch hose off a fireboat for two blocks. We had lots of help from other firefighters. The hose ran from the marina at the rear of the World Financial Center to Liberty and West streets. There were steel beams six or seven feet high where the command post had been. At one point, we could hear church bells.

Firefighter Ray Phillips Special Operations Command
25 years

We had just had a meeting with Chief Downey. John Pailillo came in and joined in the discussions. John was the battalion chief working that day. Then, at approximately 8:30, a quarter to 9, we had come out and I was just making my way to the TAC (Tactical Support Unit) rig to put my gear on and the voice alarm went off. He was saying a second alarm was being transmitted for the World Trade Center, all units assigned start out, particulars to follow. Guys came out of the kitchen yelling that there was a plane crash.

We came down the East Side of Manhattan. Chief Downey was behind me. We had notified Queens that myself and Car 40 Adam, which was Chief Downey's car, were responding to the World Trade Center. We came down and around. For the most part, it was kind of an interesting drive because we could see the smoke, the first tower burning. Somewhere around the Brooklyn Bridge we saw the second plane come in. We saw it dip its wings to the left like it was turning to the left. We didn't see it hit, but I said to Joe Angelini, who was riding with me, I said, Joe, that plane's awful low.

Joe had asked Lieutenant McQuade if he could ride. McQuade said yes. Joe opened the door and asked me, could I go with you? I said, yeah, just jump in. He said to me, should I grab some gear? I said no, don't waste any time, let's get going. We didn't want to waste any time. When we came down the FDR Drive, people in the right-hand lane had stopped their cars. It was like a parking lot. Everyone was sitting on the cars watching the towers burn. When we got a clear view, we realized that both towers were burning. We didn't realize the second plane had hit, but we realized that both towers were burning.

We came north on West Street, came down from the lower part of Battery Park and ended up going to Liberty Street. There was a lot of debris coming off the building. One of the silver coverings had come flying down like a missile and just missed us. I told Joe to walk up to 10 Engine and 10 Truck, at least grab a helmet. I swung around up Liberty Street towards the Gateway Plaza and parked the rig on the other side of the transverse that goes on Liberty Street from the Dow Jones building to the Winter Garden. I started to get dressed, waiting for Joe to come back.

As I was getting dressed, a civilian tapped me on the shoulder and said somebody had just jumped out of 1 World Trade Center. I looked over. I didn't see him come down, but I heard this banging noise and didn't at the time put two and two together. About five seconds, 10 seconds later, the guy hits me again. He goes, here comes another jumper. I peeked out. Again, didn't see the guy coming down, but heard this noise. Then I started to realize that the noise I was hearing was jumpers coming down.

I got dressed and proceeded to look for Joe. A member of OEM came over and froze everybody in the street underneath the overpass and said that a third plane was coming in, he wanted everybody back. 25 Truck was standing next to me. Dr. Kelly was standing next to me. We stood there maybe five to 10 minutes waiting for this guy to make a decision.

Actually, where he stopped us, we were under a covering. Then we just stood there and watched some people jump. I actually went back to the rig at one time and got binoculars just to get a better of view of what's going on because the rig was right there. Finally, I got a little antsy and I proceeded to cross the street, watching the debris come down.