WTC: This Is Their Story - Part I

Firehouse® continues to present the extraordinary stories of those FDNY firefighters who were at the scene of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.


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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He was really, really calm. I remember saying how's the smoke condition, how's the atmosphere in there, is it breathable? He said it's a lot of dust, it's a little tough to breathe, but we're doing all right. And there was no heat. I asked him about fire, is there any fire near there? He said he didn't think so. They could smell something burning, they knew there was a fire nearby, but it wasn't bothering them yet. So many things were happening at once. Anytime you saw anything that looked like it was like a rig or a helmet or something, guys would be digging in that area, so it was just like a million little operations going on there.

Firehouse: You said when they saw a pile or a rig, they were digging around it?

Salka: Yes. Guys were looking through rigs and looking through really everything. Debris was all over the place. We were trying to find our way to Jonas, to 6 Truck, because we were talking to him. Other guys would be talking to him, asking either similar or the same questions, but we were still trying to make our way over there. I remember at one point seeing (Deputy) Chief (Peter) Hayden and saying you guys hear 6 Truck, you know 6 Truck is trapped? And he said yeah, we're trying to get somebody over there. There was a lot of stuff going on. He was trying to do 10 things at once.

At one point, he told me to take a bunch of guys. There were some Rescue 1 guys there, Rescue 3, Cliffie Stabner, a couple of other guys from Rescue 1, obviously off-duty guys that were down there with their gear. I grabbed a handful of guys. He said take a handful of guys and see if you can get in there and find Jonas, which was like finding a needle in a haystack. We were trying to talk to him. We were trying to search around for him. It was a lot of fire still burning too. There was a lot of smoke and heat.

We went around to Vesey and we went into a garage level on the north side of that building. There was a rolldown door. It was down, but it had been cut. There was a triangle opening. We walked through that. By now, there were a pile of guys with us, maybe 15 or 20 guys. Now, that's right across the street from 7 World Trade Center, which was still burning very well, still intact, still standing, 40-something stories.

We went in there. Everybody was concerned about being near that, but we went in there anyway because we were still trying to get to Jonas and we thought that would be maybe a way to get down towards where he was into the rubble.

Firehouse: So you went into building 6?

Salka: Which was the Customs House. We got in there and it was pretty good downstairs, a lot of dust and debris and stuff, but it was all intact. We were thinking there was a connection in there where we would be able to get into a stairway or maybe that he even was in there. He was telling us he was in the north tower, but we were thinking maybe we can get to him from there. So we did get in there. There was smoke in there. You could see where part of the north tower had ripped right through 6 World Trade Center, which was a much smaller building. We could see where we were was a loading dock and the loading dock ended and then there was just a debris hole. It almost looked like the first one in 1993, when there was an internal collapse inside the building. You could look down.

There was a lot of fire in there burning, a couple of stairways. Joey DiBernardo from Rescue 3 was there. He was going to try and go up one of the stairways and see if he could get to Jonas. We were talking to him on the radio again and Cliffie Stabner was there. A couple of other chiefs came in. We had a line stretched in there just in case we needed it. We had a bunch of people there, then they pulled us out. We ended up pulling everybody out of there and accounting for everybody going out that door single file and back toward West Street.

I grabbed the riding list off every rig I went past. I jumped up into the cab. I must have had 10 or 12 of them. I handed those over to Chief Fellini or one of the guys that was with him, one of the other chiefs or an aide. I was still trying to get to Jay. Every once in a while I had to remind either Hayden or (Citywide Tour Commander Frank) Fellini or whoever it was I was talking to, we still got 6 Truck, is 6 Truck out yet? No, they're not out yet, we haven't got to them yet. You'd almost get sidetracked from trying to get to them because so many other things were happening and you were encountering so many other things. All of a sudden, you'd encounter hurt guys or guys saying here's something else happening over here. Somebody said there's a guy under this rig. It just never ended. There was so many things being reported to you.