WTC: This Is Their Story

Firehouse® presents the extraordinary stories of FDNY firefighters who were on the scene and operating in different areas following the 9/11 terrorist attack.


We continue to present the extraordinary stories of those FDNY firefighters who were on the scene and operating in different areas before, during and after the collapse of the World Trade Center's 110-story twin towers following the terrorist attack on 9/11. The interviews were conducted by Harvey...


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Going toward the fire command station in number 1, I went by the escalators, which were loaded with many people evacuating the building. It was very orderly. Nobody was panicking. People were helping other people. These people were all healthy, they were not injured. It was, if there is such a thing, a routine evacuation of the tower, as far as I could see, but it was slowed down by the width of the escalators. There were crowds of people trying to get on the escalators to get out. One thing I saw there is that the escalators should have been wider to get more of those people out. Fire department people were there, but these people did not need help getting out. They were getting out under their own power.

I went down a level, from the plaza level to the lobby level of 1 World Trade Center, where the fire command station was located. As I passed the core of the building where the elevators and stairwells were, I ran into about a group of about 30 or so firemen. In that group, I saw my friend Terry Hatton, the captain of Rescue 1, who saw me and motioned for me to come over. I went over to him and gave him a hug, and he said, I love you, Brother, it might be the last time I see you. We hugged, I kissed him on the cheek and he went into the stairwell.

The other person I remember seeing there was Chris Blackwell from Rescue 3. I went over to Chris and he said to me, Timmy, this isn't good. I said, I know, Chris, be careful. I kissed him on the lips because that's what we always did to shock other people. It was the last time I saw Chris.

After that, I went to the fire command station. There I saw Calvin, and I believe I saw (Chief of Department Peter) Ganci. (OEM Director Rich) Shearer was there, and I think (Fire Commissioner Thomas) Von Essen was there for a minute. One of the first things I brought up with my bosses in the fire department was that we needed to get air cover from the military just in case this was a terrorist attack, so I know that that request went out very early in the operation from us at OEM and the fire department, and I would imagine also the police department.

Then, a firefighter came into the lobby of number 1 and told us the second plane had hit. I didn't hear anything. I didn't know until the guy came in and told us that another plane had crashed into number 2. Calvin told me to go to number 2, get with the command post there and help the fire department with their command and support, and to let him know everything that was going on.

I went outside. I went out through a broken window to the West Street side and ran as fast as I could. There was a lot of stuff crashing from above. At that time, I didn't know what a lot of it was, but apparently, some of it was people jumping. I ran down the West Street side and ran around to Liberty Street side and ran into number 2.

The first person I saw in there was (FDNY Assistant Chief) Donald Burns. I ran into him and asked him if there was anything I could do. He just gave me a poker face, as if to say you and I aren't going to be able to handle this. We have to wait, he said. He said he already had a fifth alarm ordered for this building and we would have to wait for the troops to arrive so we can start helping these people.

I ran into six Emergency Service cops who wanted to go upstairs. I told them they had to report in to Chief Burns for accountability purposes to make sure that we knew who they were and where they were going, so they did that.

At that point, the people evacuating the building were still healthy. It was still fairly orderly in number 2, also. I ran around the corner. Now somebody came and grabbed me and told me there were people trapped in an elevator. I went around to where the elevators were and the hoistway door was open and I could see that about two feet of the car was showing from the top. I could see legs, I'm guessing about eight people. The elevator pit was on fire, so I started screaming at the Port Authority folks to get fire extinguishers, which we had difficulty doing.

As firemen started showing up in the lobby, I asked them to bring in their extinguishers and they started trying to put that fire out. I ran into Mike Lynch from Ladder 4, who I know is a young, very competent guy, and I said to Mike, take care of this. And Mike said I got it, Timmy, go.

I went back to where the command post was in number 2 and the command board was not set up yet. I decided to go to the phones and try and call Washington to make sure we were getting air cover. We were told over the OEM radio that there was a third plane inbound for us and that we should be prepared to get hit again.