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We were now traveling further away from our objective, but still didn't know where Tower 1 was located. Someone else told us if you go around building 5, to the mezzanine entrance, but that was collapsed and burning. Directions were given to the driveway entrance, to the mezzanine level, walk west to the escalators that lead to the courtyard; you'll find tower 1.
Before we had left building 6, Chief Picciato had a megaphone with a siren unit. He was asked to sound the siren. We couldn't hear it. On our way into the mezzanine we could barely hear a guy yelling for help. We found the escalators and they were covered in debris. We now thought let's try the courtyard. We heard someone else yelling. It was a firefighter from Rescue 2 with a civilian.
We asked Battalion 11 to hit the siren again. We were just barely able to hear it. You couldn't get through the hole in the crater. Three firefighters went with Chief Ferran and four others went around another way. In the crater you had to walk on steel with 40- to 50-foot drops. The siren noise was coming from the southwest, but you had to walk west to north to go to the southwest. It was very steep, very dangerous with fires burning underneath. If anyone falls, I'll have another operation. Portions of the surrounding buildings were collapsing.
Building 7 was starting to fall apart. There were five floors of fire inside. I knew we didn't have a lot of time. Picciato, Battalion 11, had said you're going to need rescue and other tools to get them out. We only had halligan tools and roof ropes. I said let's take one problem at a time. Visibility was about 100 feet. There was no daylight, just smoke overhead. As we moved further in the pile, the smoke and fires continued. Every 20 minutes we could hear the siren echoing.
Firefighters looking for Ladder 6 in the north tower worked for hours climbing over steel, with flames and smoke hampering their vision. There were also voids as deep as 50 feet.
There were eight of us now within two groups. Chief Ferran said we might have to pull out. The fire in building 7 was causing a great concern that it would come down soon. Then, Picciato said we could start seeing outside and see the blue sky. At this time, it was about one hour that we were inside the crater searching. Picciato was asked if he could see a vertical steel like stair-riser. Picciato said you yell out. We did and he said that's right outside where we are.
It was a real climb to get through this. Looking at where they were trapped it looked like a three-story-high section, 30 to 40 feet wide. You couldn't tell it was a stairway. I said a prayer a second time. Firefighter Jerry Suden was standing on an eight-inch piece of steel 50 feet in the air. He could see Picciato and hooked up a roof rope to get the people inside out 12 or 14 feet from the stairwell.
After talking with Picciato, he said there were two firefighters trapped below two floors below their position and a chief trapped below them. Trapped in this area between the third and fourth floors were 12 people, including Chief Picciato, Captain Jay Jonas and five members of Ladder 6, a lieutenant and two firefighters from two different engine companies, a Port Authority police officer and a female civilian. Suden was going to have to take the rescued firefighters back out the way we came. After the first group emerged, they went about 50 feet and the fires burning beneath the steel wouldn't allow them to go the way we came in.
Additional firefighters entered the stairway. The group awaiting removal was told that more firefighters were on the way to assist them and we would get them out. The remaining group of firefighters and civilians were removed outside. I asked where the two other firefighters were trapped. Maneuvering down the remains of the stairway to what was left of a landing. Tools were going to be needed. I could talk to the two firefighters from Engine 39. I asked if they were OK, were they hurt in any way?
Jimmy Lanza and Corrigan came with me. I got a roof rope. If another collapse occurred, I would know where they were located. I cleared some rubble and concrete with a halligan tool near the corner of the landing with the standpipe. I hit some sheetrock. I was able to remove two layers of sheet rock and opened a four-foot-by-eight-inch void. That's going to be enough to get them out.