WTC: This Is Their Story - Part II

I don't remember if it was that night that we found a bunch of guys there, but I remember a bunch of guys coming out of there over the course - every time I went there, I went up to that spot if I could. After a while, you just got to know what deputies...


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I don't remember if it was that night that we found a bunch of guys there, but I remember a bunch of guys coming out of there over the course - every time I went there, I went up to that spot if I could. After a while, you just got to know what deputies were working. Anytime I showed up, I would say I've been working up there with rescue and they would pretty much let me go up there. And so that went on, on and off for a couple of different days I was there, but that operation just kept continuing right there. And then you'd come back and they'd be 20 feet lower, but still digging in the same spot. Then they'd take us all out of there. The cranes would lift three or four or five or 10 big pieces off. Then we'd go back up there again and now the whole pile was a little bit lower.

Firehouse: What reports did you give?

Salka: They were constantly asking us up there is it safe, should you still be up there, how does it look, is it going to collapse or is there fire under you? It was ridiculously dangerous up there, but everybody was doing what they were doing. There were guys there and we knew it, and it was a stairway, it was a hot spot to be, so nobody was leaving.

Firehouse: Did you see any signs or anything, any floor numbers, any you remember?

Salka: Yes, there were stairways. We were finding plates with floor numbers on them.

Firehouse: Do you remember any of them?

Salka: 27, I remember seeing 27. And a lot of the stairway treads. These other guys that were up there with us, these guys didn't have to be there. These guys were tradesmen, steamfitters, and they were up there doing it with us, which I thought was really super. They were very decent guys, and we couldn't have done it without them.

Rescue knows how to cut with torches, the machines and the stuff like that, but not like these guys. We had a crew of six guys up there and they could just cut stuff and move it and really quickly. They facilitated the whole thing up there. A lot of stuff happened - and they knew how things were going to move when you cut it, so it was really good having them up there. So we were working on that and that pile just kept getting lower and lower. There was a big pile and behind it almost looked like Pick-Up Sticks. You know how you drop them and they end up in a pile? There was a pile behind us that had been explored the first or second day.

There were a couple of big beams 30, 40, 60, 80 feet long, those big 100-ton beams, that were just sort of like teetering up there. They were held down by wires and by other beams leaning on them, but I guess they could have just fallen, so we tried to stay away from that. We found a couple of helmets and frontpieces up there, a lot of masks, cylinders. I remember finding masks and cylinders. You'd see the top of a bottle. You'd go digging down to that.

Eventually, we didn't have to climb up and down anymore. They would bring a "man basket" up with the crane, and we'd all climb into the basket. Then, they'd hoist us and lower us back down, so it took us two minutes to get up and down rather 25 minutes to climb up there. We would bring all our tools and everything up or back or if we were going to come right back, we'd leave everything up there and come down. A couple of times, for hours they tried to get me to leave there, but we were uncovering fireman after fireman. I said no, we've got firemen in our hands, we have guys in our hands here that we've partially uncovered, we're not going to come down right now. They wanted to take a bridge down, but I mean they can take it down later. And they did. We held them off for a while until we ended up at a dead end where we had nothing. So we said all right, we'll come down now, take a break, swap off crews, while we're swapped off, they can do that, so they did.

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