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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Deputy Chief Nick Visconti Division 14
Firehouse: Please describe your experiences on Sept. 11.
Visconti: I was in my car. I was listening to the traffic reports because I was going to Queens. I was doing primary work for the UFOA (Uniformed Fire Officers Association) and I heard the first radio report, there's a lot of smoke around the World Trade Center. They said it's awful black and it's getting worse. Now the news media must have started getting calls and they broke back in with a story that a plane just hit the World Trade Center. Because the weather was clear, I thought it must have been some nitwit buzzing the tower, and that he lost control of the aircraft and crashed into the tower.
I was listening to all these things and everybody's estimating what's going on and it's tough to listen to that. They had a guy who said he's a pilot and he's an expert, and he saw the plane hit and it was a small two- engine plane. I said somebody ran into the trade center by accident? They're interviewing another woman who said, I saw the plane and no, it was a very big plane and oh, my God the plane hit the tower. So they said, yeah, we know that. She says no, no, no, another plane hit the tower. They asked if she was sure. She said, I'm telling you, another plane hit the second tower.
I was saying to myself, oh, my God, I can't believe this. I kept listening to the reports. When I got to the Whitestone Bridge, I could see that both towers were burning, burning fiercely. Cars were slowing down and stopping. When I got onto the other side of the Whitestone Bridge, I actually pulled over where the Whitestone Expressway meets the Grand Central Parkway. A bunch of cars were stopped. I looked at these towers and I thought to myself this is the biggest fire in the fire department's history, I've got to go there.
I got back in the car and drove to the 14th Division, which was not five minutes away. I ran upstairs. Everybody was watching the television. They were asking me, Chief, Chief, do you know what's going on? Yeah. I said, I'm getting my gear, I want a vehicle and if any of you guys want to come down with me, get your stuff. A couple of the off-duty aides said yeah, we'll go down with you.
I started getting dressed and the office manager said there's a phone call, they're looking for any off-duty deputy chiefs. I picked up the phone. I was told, Nick, we need you, we have a recall in, we need a staging area set up at Shea Stadium (in Queens). I said, I want to go down to the fire, but I was told, we need the staging area, we've got guys coming in, we need somebody to get control of them.
We got into the van and went over to Shea Stadium. All we had were pads and pencils and papers. We didn't have any tables. We didn't have anything. Thank God the weather was good because we were able to set up right in the parking lot, right outside the police department office. The P.D. has a constant presence at Shea Stadium. They gave us access to a phone - we had been using cell phones.
People started showing up, firefighters with bunker gear, firefighters with tools, firefighters with masks. They must have stopped at their firehouses. They just kept filling the parking lot and pretty soon we were going to lose control. So we set up some pads on a table and we told the guys to write their names on a pad just to record that they were there, and we started taking a list of names.
At that point, we were still getting phone calls. Now, I've got these guys here, what do you want me to do with them? They told me that they have buses on the way, and when they arrive, load up the buses and we'll get instructions.