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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Tim Brown was in the lobby of the South Tower (top of picture) and went for EMS for the numerous injured people entering the lobby from the upper floors. Brown traveled across West Street (in middle of photo), returned with EMS personnel and made it into the lobby of the Marriott Hotel when the South Tower collapsed and survived. The photo depicts only three floors in the hotel after the second collapse.
Firefighter Tim Brown, FDNY Detailed as supervisor in operations at the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM)
18 years of service
When the first plane hit, I was in 7 World Trade Center, on the third floor. I didn't hear it. The only reason I knew something was wrong was because the power went out for about three to five seconds. I knew that there was a major interruption of power, and the power came back up because it was rerouted automatically by computers.
People who were sitting next to the windows facing Tower 1 all stood up and starting running away from the windows. I yelled, what's wrong, and they said a plane just crashed into the tower.
Some sort of minor panic evacuation occurred in the cafeteria. The one escalator down was loaded up. I pushed my way through the crowd down to the lobby level where I saw my boss, Calvin Drayton. He told me to go up to our office on the 23rd floor and make sure that we had everything put in place properly, that the proper notifications were being made. We have a responsibility to notify a lot of agencies in a situation like this. That is done by our watch command.
When I got up to the 23rd floor, I went to my desk and grabbed my three portable radios, my police radio, fire radio and OEM radio, stuffed the police and fire radios in my back pockets, and carried the OEM radio in my hand. I went into our watch command, which is our communications center, to make sure they were prepared for the onslaught of calls we would be getting. I saw that the supervisor, Mike Lee, was there and that he had things under control. I went into our emergency operations center to make sure that was being powered up. I ran into Mike Berkowitz, who is the supervisor in charge of that part of our operation. He had everything under control. He said he had the manpower he needed to get it up and running. He was good, so I was very comfortable that OEM was beginning to do what we do in a major emergency.
I took the elevator back down to the lobby and proceeded to Vesey Street. There was a lot of debris and stuff burning in the street. I went to my car. I opened my trunk and took off my jacket and threw on a Mayor's Office jacket and a helmet and boots, and went back to the corner of Vesey and West Broadway, where I saw our Car 2 there, an inspector from the police department and (OEM Commissioner) John T. Odermatt. He was going to stay there at the exterior command post, which was the police command post. I told him I was going to meet Car 3, Calvin, at the fire command station in the lobby of 1 World Trade Center. I wanted to get a three-sided view of Tower 1 before I went up, so I ran into the plaza level and saw tremendous destruction. In that plaza area, I saw a lot of stuff on fire. I saw plane parts, building parts, bodies - a very war-like scene. I interacted with a Port Authority cop there and then I left and went into 1 World Trade Center.
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.
I was on the phones trying to call Washington, but I couldn't get through. The operators told me that the Pentagon had also been hit. Then I got in touch with SEMO, the New York State Emergency Management Office, in Albany and asked them for help. They said they were already in the process of getting us help from the military. They said they already were on it, that they knew about the problem, so I was pretty comfortable with that.
I went back to the command board, which was now being set up on the Liberty Street side of 2 World Trade Center, inside the lobby next to the doors. Now, people coming down in the stairwell, civilians coming down in the stairwell, were more severely injured. They were burned and bloody and broken, so we knew some of these people were coming down from those floors that were affected by the crash.
I got word back on my OEM radio that the third plane was no longer inbound, that it had crashed and so that all gave us a sigh of relief. I asked Chief Burns whether there was anything else that I could do. And there really wasn't a lot to do for me right there, so I stood in the background and I noticed that the lobby was beginning to fill up with civilians.
The people at the command post now were Chief Burns and Chief Jack Fanning. I remember seeing Carl, the aide from 54 Engine. I remember seeing the police photographer who introduced himself to me and said that he had been directed by the police commissioner to document everything that he could document. Apparently, from what I understand, he did not make it out, but they did get the film out of his camera.
As the lobby was filling up with these injured people, it was beginning to impede the evacuation down the stairwells of other people and I knew that we needed to get the lobby cleared. I asked the Port Authority to take people who could walk underground to 7 World Trade Center, where we had established a triage area. A lot of these people could not walk any farther. The lobby was beginning to fill up. There were no chairs for people who were injured to sit in, so they were sitting on the floor and lying on the floor.
I took it upon myself to go find EMS, which is a decision that saved my life. I told Chief Burns that that's what I would be doing. I went out the doors back onto the Liberty Street side. There was stuff crashing all around. Earlier, a company came in the lobby and told us that there was already a fireman was dead outside, that he was killed by a jumper. Later on, I found out it was a firefighter from 216 Engine.
Now I went outside. As I got just outside the doors on the sidewalk, Mike Lynch yelled my name out and he was out at 4 Truck's rig. He was a chauffeur and he was trying to get the Hurst tool off by himself, but it was difficult, so he yelled to me for help. I started running toward him to help him, but before I got over to him, a younger fireman got to him first and helped him, so Mike said never mind to me. He was taking that Hurst tool back inside to try and force the elevator car down so he could get the people out.
That rig was later found below grade, apparently, they found it three or four levels down, so that's where Mike was the last time I saw Mike alive. I had worked with him in Ladder 4. I knew Mike very well. I was fortunate enough to be able to tell his family that I witnessed him saving those people in the elevator and I'm confident that they had time to get many of them out to safety before Mike was killed.
I ran out across Liberty Street as fast as I could, knowing that people were jumping and things were crashing down from the building above me. I ran over to the pedestrian bridge at West and Liberty where EMS was beginning to set up their staging area. I ran into (Deputy Chief) Charlie Wells from EMS, also a good friend, and I said to Charlie that we needed help inside of the lobby of 2 World Trade Center, there were a lot of injured people. So he said Timmy, just give me a minute to get a couple of guys together and then we'll all go back in together.
I stood there underneath the pedestrian bridge with them. He got two paramedics. They put their helmets on. They got their jump kit and their stretcher, and about two minutes later we were running back across Liberty Street to the southwest corner of the Marriott Hotel. We ran to the edge of that and I wanted to take them along the edge very close to the building so that we would be protected from any falling debris.
As we got to that corner of the Marriott, it was the Tall Ships Restaurant entrance. The doors were wide open. There were people inside the Tall Ships. We ran along the edge, which would be the exposure 4 side of the hotel. Just as we rounded the corner to Tower 2 to go in the deeper sidewalk - Tower 2 was set back farther into the lot - just as we rounded that corner, there was a tremendous roar above us. There was no question in the world what it was. It was very obvious that the building was collapsing.
I know I did not even look up. I spun on my heels and as I ran by everybody running for my life, I yelled to Charlie and the other paramedics to follow me because I knew where I was going. Then I retraced my steps back to the entrance of the Tall Ships Restaurant and ran into the lobby, hoping that this building would protect us.
As I ran into the lobby, it was crystal clear. And about two seconds later, it was pitch black. There was tremendous dust, tremendous wind, 35 miles an hour I'm guessing at this point, blowing in my face. Everything that wasn't nailed down was blowing at me. People started to scream and the noise kept getting louder and louder.
I knew that I could not continue running forward, so I turned around again and started running back to the entrance where I had come in, but I realized that I could not go out in the street because I would be killed by the steel that was falling. So I became trapped, not physically trapped, but trapped so that I couldn't run anywhere. There was nowhere to run. The roar was getting louder. I couldn't see anything. I couldn't hear anything at all except the roar.
I got on my hands and knees and started crawling. I found a steel column and I knew that this would be my only hope. I grabbed onto the column, wrapped my arms around it as tight as I could and tried to become one with the column. This roar just seemed to keep getting louder and louder. I had thought that this whole thing was lasting four minutes and from what I understand, it lasted between 20 and 40 seconds.
The wind now was I'm guessing upwards of 75 miles an hour, maybe more. It was blowing my legs up in the air. It was hard to hold onto the column and not get blown out into the street. I lost my helmet. I lost my pager. I thought that this would be my grave and I just sat there and waited to get crushed.
Surprisingly to me, the roar stopped. The wind slowed down and I began to realize that I was still alive. I still couldn't see anything. I stood up and started walking with my hands out in front of me toward what I thought was the entrance where I came in and I ran into a truck with its headlights on. And I still to this day do not know what that truck was. I thought that it was a box truck and the first thing that came to my mind was that it was a truck bomb, so I turned around and started running away from it yelling at everybody that it was a bomb, run the other way, it was a bomb.
So everybody started following me. There were I'm guessing 30 people around me as we began to be able to see a little bit. We ran into a rolldown gate, which I later heard had separated the restaurant from the hotel and that's the rolldown gate that they pulled down when the restaurant closed.
The gate was down. We lined up on the gate and put our fingers under it and tried to lift. We got it up about two inches and then all these fingers came from the other side. There were people trapped on the other side of it. I was told that it was 131 Truck on the other side because they gave the same story I did.
We lifted the gate maybe two feet. From behind us a girl said we found a way out, follow us, so we all turned around and started following her. And this is still fright mode where everybody is still in shock and panic. There was a fireman outside on top of the rubble yelling to us to follow him, that he was outside and he knew where we could go to safety. I don't know who that fireman was.
Eventually, they got that rolldown gate up. It's not clear to me, but I think that when I left, it was up two feet and I heard that that is how they escaped. They came out and followed us. They followed us out. Apparently, the people that lived that were in the hotel lobby were people that were either in the north end or the south end of the lobby.
We ran out across the rubble toward West Street. I continued across West Street until I got to the World Financial Center. I ran to the World Financial Center and all I knew was that I wanted to get to the river and get as far away from these buildings as I could. I went into that building. I tried to break through a glass door that was locked and I couldn't break through it. I had no tools. I was trying to throw a chair through it, but the glass was too solid.
At this point, I could hear my boss Calvin on the OEM radio calling for help and that brought me out of my panic for lack of a better word. It brought me back to reality. I went back out onto West Street and ran north along West Street over all the rubble. I communicated with Calvin on the radio, I kept asking him where he was, where he was. And I started to get a general idea where he was, so I started running north on West. I ran by Chief Feehan (First Deputy Commissioner William Feehan), who was standing amongst the rubble. I shook his hand when I ran by him and he told me to be careful.
I kept running north to Vesey Street where I made a left and headed west on Vesey Street going toward where Calvin was. I found Calvin sitting against a building in Battery Park and the EMS was with him. They had oxygen on him. I asked him if he was OK and he said he was OK. Come to find out later, a fireman had rescued him out of the garage underneath the Financial Center where he had been trapped.
My other boss, John Odermatt, came up behind us, saw that Calvin was OK and told me that I needed to go with him, we needed to re-establish city government somewhere else, we knew we were under terrorist attack, we didn't know what else was going to happen.
We ran north again on West Street and then I ran east on Barclay. At some point there I lost John. We got separated. I ran north on West Broadway. I had been trying to get my family on my cell phone, but the cell phones were not working.
As I ran north on West Broadway, people behind me started to scream, and I turned around and looked over my shoulder and watched as Tower 1 collapsed knowing that my friends Terry and Chris and a lot of the guys were in there. We continued to run north because we didn't know how far that building was going to fall toward us. We were at West Broadway and Warren Street.
Now it just became overwhelming emotionally that this was happening and I was watching my friends die. I wound up seeing some girls going down one of the side streets, seeing some girls go into a building. So I ran down the street because I wanted to use the phone. I banged on their door. They let me in their office and I asked them if I could use their phone and they gave me the phone. I was able to call my brother Chris, who is a Providence, Rhode Island fireman to tell him that I was alive. And that was an hour and 42 minutes after the first plane hit and we had it entered in our phone bill record.
Then we went north and we established city government up at the firehouse of Engine 24 and Ladder 5 and proceeded from there.
I did not hear any Maydays or urgents in any of the towers. The fire radio was in my back pocket and it was on the Manhattan frequency. It was not on the handie-talkie. If I had heard Terry or Patrick giving Maydays, I wouldn't be here right now. I would have been going to them just as I went to Calvin, but I didn't hear it.
Ciro Napolitano painted this image reflecting the night after 9/11. It shows his wife is putting their children to bed as smoke rises from the World Trade Center site in the distance. The toy ladder truck on the floor, numbered 118, represents Ciro? first company. This image, available as a signed and numbered limited edition print, is being sold to raise funds for the UFA Thomas R. Elsasser Fund. This image is available through FSP Books, see ad on page 111.
Lieutenant Ciro Napolitano
(was assigned to Engine 254 on 9/11; now captain covering in Division 3)
16 years of service
I was home when I heard about it. We popped on the TV and the first tower had already been hit, not even a minute before. Then, all of a sudden, I saw a blur and there was the second explosion. Right away I knew, I said this is a terrorist attack.
I just kissed everybody good-bye. I said I've got to go. I said there's going to be eventually a recall on this. I took off. I took my bike instead of my car because I figured there was going to be a massive traffic jam trying to get downtown Brooklyn from where I live in Bensonhurst. So I went to the firehouse, got my gear at about 10 after 9. I was gone by a quarter after and I was biking it down Ocean Parkway, it was real windy that day coming down Ocean Parkway, so I got maybe about two miles down Ocean Parkway and I saw a garbage truck on the side of the service road. I threw my bike in the hopper and I said to the guys hey, look, I need a lift.
They had no idea what was going on. From the service road they couldn't see the smoke because of the trees. As soon as they got on to the main road, we could see the two columns of smoke. They took me down Ocean Parkway and 161 Truck was following behind us. They passed us and then we all got jammed up at Hamilton Avenue. I knew the officer on the truck, Lieutenant Richie McClutsky, and I jumped off and told Richie, I'm going to throw my bike on the tower ladder turntable and join you guys. I did that. We were able to get off at Hamilton Avenue and zigzag our way through the traffic and it was just like I figured it would be. It was just a bottleneck, a mass of thousands of cars, and we could see Engine 201 and Ladder 113 had gotten ahead of us.
We got to the toll booths for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and Engine 201 went through, Ladder 113 went through and then we were through the tolls, just about to go into the entrance to the tunnel, and Chief Marty Coyne from the 42 Battalion stopped us and he said that's it. He literally grabbed the front of the rig. He said we just got the radio report that there's too many rigs on the West Side Highway and they don't know where to put them anymore. We were fighting with him, no, we want to go through, we'd seen them disappear into the tunnel, but he said no, make a U-turn. So we made the U-turn. We went around and there was a whole bunch of companies coming down that were lining up on Richard Street by Ladder 101 and Engine 202's firehouse.
There was a fourth- or fifth-alarm assignment that was lining up there. So I put my bike in 101's quarters, got my gear and from there I could see the full view of the towers. I was listening on my hand scanner to Manhattan's frequency. The 41 Battalion's there and the 42 Battalion too. I got there maybe 25 after 9, 9:30. And then the South Tower collapsed at about 9:50 or 9:55. All of a sudden you're looking at it and you see like somebody threw sparkles in the air. I guess it was all the windows that blew out. Then you saw the twist and you saw it just coming down like that huge cloud and then it just disappeared.
I was hearing Manhattan up until the point where I saw the top of the tower disappear and then it just went dead. There was nothing on the radio. Whoever the dispatcher was, I could hear him prompting them, calling for any units to respond. Nobody was responding. Then I heard a garbled transmission from Marine 9 or 6 giving an urgent that there was a complete collapse of Tower 2. I turned and looked at all the guys that were standing there and everybody was just dumfounded. They had no idea what had happened, and I was probably the first guy to hear that there was a total collapse of the South Tower. Then, at that point when the tower collapsed there was a shotgun of dust, smoke and glass that came through the tunnel and just hit everybody and then the cloud that came across Brooklyn. All the paper and dust, glass and everything else that hit us. Guys still didn't have an idea what had happened.
It shot right through, right through the tunnel like a gun blast. These two puffs of smoke just came right out. And then the cloud of smoke rolled over from Manhattan across the river, hitting us. I went over to the 41 chief. He was busy on the Brooklyn frequency, trying to get through to the dispatcher, and I could hear the confusion and the mass hysteria on the Brooklyn side. I said there's been a total collapse of the South Tower. I said I just heard a transmission on Manhattan frequency from Marine 6 or 9. There was a total collapse. The dispatcher was trying to reach anybody on the scene for several minutes until the North Tower collapsed.
Now we started seeing people walking through the tunnel. They looked like mummies. They were completely encased in dust. All of a sudden a taxi came speeding out of the tunnel, came through the toll off to Lorraine Street and just threw a guy out to us. He was bleeding from a cut on his head and he was all full of dust. We were asking him what happened, but he didn't know what to say to us. He was totally in shock and dumfounded. Next thing, we started seeing more and more people coming out of the tunnel.
Then the second tower came down, and we got another shotgun of smoke through the tunnel. More smoke was coming over and hitting us on the Brooklyn side. Chief Coyne said to 102 Truck, Phil Sirvino was the lieutenant in the truck there, he told them to walk through the northbound tube, which is the right tube, to Manhattan and see if he can find out what was going on. So he took his group of guys and I watched them because I was standing right at the tolls. I saw them disappear into the smoke. Then Chief Coyne said to everybody on the trucks, we're all heading out. He didn't even wait for orders from Brooklyn. He just said we're going to take the Brooklyn Bridge over to Manhattan, come down from the north end of Lower Manhattan.
So 281 Engine was the first one in the line of engines. Everybody else was lined up behind them. I knew Patty Ward was the lieutenant on 281 and I told him, look Patty, I'm going to join you guys, they're a four-man engine. As we were pulling out, Chief Coyne came over to me and said Ciro, get off the truck, I need you to stay here. You're staying here, you're acting battalion chief as of right now, you're the acting 32 Battalion chief because the 32 had already gone to Lower Manhattan on the initial second or third alarm. He said I need you to coordinate whatever other units come into this area. He said you're going to have a couple of units left with you over here, we're all taking off over the Brooklyn Bridge. So he ordered me to stay there. He gave me a radio. From that point, I said my first priority was to find out what happened to 102 Truck. I went to the tunnel with my radio and I started trying to call into the tunnel, but nobody was answering.
Now I had reports over the radio that we had a possible lean-to collapse of the towers, that part of it had fallen on the entrance of tunnels, that there was a collapse at the entrance of the tunnel. I could hear it over the Brooklyn radio. I heard bomb threats, that there were unconfirmed reports of bomb detonations in the tunnel, that there were bombs undetonated that were still in the tunnels. So I was wondering what happened to those guys from 102. I couldn't contact them. I even walked about a quarter of a mile into the tunnel. I still couldn't contact anybody.
Now I was thinking the worst had happened to those guys. I went back to my aide at the car and there was a bunch of guys there. I didn't have the heart to order another company into the tunnel. I couldn't deal with the fact that if I had ordered a company into the tunnel and they got killed because something blew up.
I just said look, I've got to walk the tunnel. I said I need some volunteers, does anybody want to volunteer to walk the tunnel? I said I can't tell you what we're going to run into, I don't know what we're going to find, but we've got to find 102. Three guys from 101 Truck, Albert Nocella, Jerry Hall and Eric Knudsen, volunteered right away. They had no idea that their guys were dead already.
We masked up and I told them to grab whatever tools they could get, irons, hooks, whatever and we walked down the southbound tube, which is the left tube. We were about a half-mile in and the smoke was still going over our heads. I saw a few cops coming out of the tunnel and I had unconfirmed reports from them that the tunnel might be open. I said can you confirm that? Nobody could confirm it positively, so I said all right and we just kept walking. A SWAT-type van came in with three cops inside. I stopped the van. I said look, we got to join you guys, I'm going to commandeer this van now. The driver had no problem with it.
I had everybody roll up the windows in the van. I said I want everybody's masks on and I want their facepieces in the standby position. The cops had their masks too, even though they didn't have gear with them. As we went about another half-mile, we started to hit heavy smoke and it eventually banked down to the floor. The driver couldn't see where he was going. I said, put the high beams on and you could barely see the double yellow line in the middle. I said get in the center and just follow the line. We were going about five miles an hour and just following the middle line to the street of the tunnel.
I turned around and told the guys that if we start running out of air in the truck, put your masks on, but try to hold out as long as you can. I said if we run into a wall of rubble, we would try to back up, but if we couldn't back out or turn around, we were all going to get out and form a chain gang up on the catwalk and everybody was just going to follow each other and get out of the tunnel in that way. I can't tell you what I was feeling at that point. Just blinding smoke, we couldn't see and I was leading three of my guys and three cops. We ran into another cop who was walking through the smoke. We took him on the rig with us.
I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know if we were going to get blown up, if we were going to run into water or get buried alive. Eventually, the smoke started to lighten up a little and we could see that we were starting to get into daylight. We finally made it out of the tunnel. It had to be no more than maybe five to 10 minutes after the North Tower collapsed. And right when we got out of the tunnel, I found 102 Truck to the right. They had about half a dozen people all cut up, banged up and everything. I spoke to Phil, I said are you guys OK and everything? He said yeah, fine, we're going to stay here with these people. I said OK, I'm going to try to find out what's going on and see if we can help, whatever we can do.
The cops took off on their own. The three guys from 101 came with me. This was the weirdest thing. I found 201's rig because they were one of the last companies to go through the tunnel. They were facing north on the West Side Highway. All the doors were open. The dome light was on and the engine was running. It was almost like a dream because first of all, it was like a nuclear holocaust - I mean, you couldn't see barely 10, 15, 20 feet in front of you without getting blinded because it was so heavy, the soot and the smoke at that point.
Before we left Brooklyn, I told my aide that if we make it, you're going to get a transmission from Manhattan through Brooklyn on what's going on on the other side. I said if I don't make it, don't send anybody else in after me into the tunnel, just assume the worst. Whoever comes in, whatever battalion chief comes in, just let him know that you've got more men missing in the tunnel and let him take it over from there, but don't send anybody else in after us.
I got on Engine 201's radio. I gave an urgent to the Manhattan dispatcher. It took me a couple of tries to get through as the 32 Battalion chief. Now, they may have thought I was the actual 32 Battalion because I didn't say acting battalion chief or whatever. However, I gave specific orders. I said no one is to use the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel for access to Manhattan under any circumstances due to heavy smoke, threats of bombs, the stability of the tunnel is unknown at this time, we cannot verify the stability of it. I said nobody under any circumstances is to use it. Once I got confirmation back from them, we started to walk north up the West Side Highway.
I got to the command post and reported in to Deputy Chief Pete Hayden. There was a temporary command post and he was standing on top of Squad 1's rig, which was crushed. While he was busy on the radio, I checked the front of the cab because there was a huge chunk of the towers on top of the cab that had crushed it to the floor. I wanted to make sure that nobody was underneath that thing. And nobody was there. I asked Chief Hayden, what do you want? I said I've got three guys with me, we're ready to go. I had three guys from Rescue 5 that had joined us at that point. They were off duty and reported to the scene. He said look, wherever you can get a line, start operating down Liberty Street. I told the guys to see where they could find a rig. They actually found an engine. I don't know what engine it was. They had a hydrant.
They brought a 21/2-inch line up with them, so we had six guys on the line and we started operating down Liberty Street from the West Side Highway. We got about 100 or 150 feet off of the West Side Highway into that black cloud and then it started - you know how there was that huge piece of the towers, the South Tower that was leaning? And then there was the 90 West Street building that had all the scaffolding around it that had been hit by the building? So I said just keep moving the line in. At that point, I heard Pete Hayden giving the urgent on the radio for everyone to back off of Liberty Street. And then I saw the Division 8 chief. He was the 41 Battalion chief for a number of years, Chief Mosier. He showed up because I tried getting people off and nobody would listen. So he came and he started ordering everybody off and everybody started evacuating off of it, moving to the other side of the West Side Highway.
At that point, all the guys were running ahead of me. Just as I got to the West Side Highway, I fell into a hole, almost chest deep into water. And my leg got caught under an I-beam or whatever. I couldn't move. I tried moving the thing, but I was totally exhausted. I couldn't do anything. I tried getting myself out of it and I couldn't move. I looked to see where the guys were. They were a good 50 yards ahead of me, so I knew that they were safe. I said as long as these guys are safe, thank God, everybody else will be safe.
I tried to move again. I said that's it. I put my head down and I just started praying. I said this is where I'm gonna buy it. For some reason, I lifted up my head and I saw the guys turn around. They saw me that I couldn't move and they all started running back for me and thank God they did. They grabbed me. They were able to lift up whatever my leg was caught under and they pulled me off and we were able to get to the other side of the highway.
They must have heard from talking to other guys that their seven guys were missing from the truck. So they said to me hey, Lieu, we're going to go off on our own, we've got to find our guys, we heard that they might be missing or dead. I said just watch yourselves, be careful. I said try to hook up with somebody from your battalion, just go do what you've got to do.
From there on, I walked north on the West Side Highway because I heard reports at that point of Maydays from 6 Truck. I could actually hear them over the radio. I heard Ralph Tiso coordinating everything with the command post and whatever guys were up on the pile. The guy did an outstanding job. I just want to say that and my hat's off to the guy. I mean the guy really did a phenomenal job of coordinating everything in that area.
I continued north. I was trying to see where I could get by the North Tower because I heard it was by the North Tower area that 6 Truck was trapped. By the time I got to that portion, I guess where the Marriott used to connect to it, I heard that 43 Truck had gotten to them and proceeded to remove them. Eventually, the Ladder 6 and Engine 39 members were all removed safely.
I saw Nick Visconti working by the American Express Building. I went over to the area between the north overpass and the south overpass. I saw guys digging. I heard that they had confirmed there was a guy buried underneath the rubble, so I just started operating there and sure enough we found a guy. The rest of the day, I just operated down there, digging the rest of the day with everyone else.
I wound up in the hospital late that night. I couldn't see anymore, my eyes were so badly scratched. Even though they washed them out, I wound up being taken to Staten Island Hospital and I couldn't see clearly for three days afterwards. My eyes were infected, but eventually healed.
Going down there, I only had one thing in mind - getting there, fighting the fire. I figured it's going to go on for weeks on end, that we were just going to go floor by floor by floor and everybody was going to get a piece of it and that was it, and we'd go home feeling good. I had no idea whatsoever - it never dawned on me that those towers would come down. It just never did. Maybe the top might have fallen off, but to have a total collapse like that?