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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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 Eisner.

6_02_wtc1.jpg
FDNY Photo
Al Fuentes

Captain Al Fuentes
Acting Battalion Chief, Marine Division, on 9/11
25 years

I started work at 7 A.M. The secretary came running in screaming a plane hit the World Trade Center. From the Brooklyn Navy Yard I could see both towers. I couldn't believe my eyes. I thought we should surround the Battery with fireboats, because that would be the best way to get the injured out via water. We could use the boats to move companies in to the area.

I took the super radio (able to contact the dispatcher). When I was a lieutenant in Rescue 2, I constantly drilled with the members that there is no time to rely on messages in an emergency, call the dispatcher.

I traveled on Marine 6 across the harbor. We pulled up to Vesey Street. I looked up and saw the second jet slam into the south tower. I knew we were under attack. Proceeding to the command post I reported to Chief of Department Ganci. Chief Ray Downey was there. He said, Al, stay here with me. Marine 1 and 6 were on scene with a spare boat, the Smoke. Marine 9 was standing ready at their berth. Companies were getting assignments. People were jumping from the south tower. Chief Downey said we better give Tower 2 more attention. It was hit lower and there are more people inside. I saw the four corners of the south tower and knew it was going to come down. It started to collapse. I ran into the garage doors of the World Financial Center located directly behind the command post. I made it in about 10 feet. I crouched down, put my head between my legs and said a Hail Mary.

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Firehouse Collection
Firefighters are dwarfed by steel in front of the Winter Garden located within the World Financial Center and on the west side of West Street opposite the north tower.

The wind blew through. Debris was hitting me. It was pitch black. I tried to breathe through my coat. I found my way out through the interior. I emerged and couldn't believe my eyes. There was six feet of debris, gray dust all over. We better start searching West Street. Deputy Commissioner William Feehan walked by and asked if I was all right. I said I wanted to start searching. Two firefighters stopped and I told them to get tools. Chief Ganci walked by and gave me a look and shook his head. Chief Ray Downey said we just lost a lot of guys. Where are the fighter pilots? He thought there might be further attacks.

Six firefighters appeared across the street near the Marriott Hotel lobby. Debris was still falling from the north tower. Chief Downey said, I'm going over there, let me know when it is safe to come back out. Several of the firefighters came out, including Chief Brian O'Flaherty.

Then the north tower came down. I was trapped from the neck down for 90 minutes. Several firefighters dug me out and carried me. I was covered by a piece of silver facade. (Firefighter Jack Flatley heard the radio Fuentes was carrying and located him). I was removed via boat to New Jersey. They did a tracheotomy on me. I was in a drug-induced coma for a week. On a respirator, intubated. I had six broken ribs, collapsed lung, skull fracture and needed a couple hundred stitches on my scalp, broken wrist and fingers.

I was in the surgical ICU and then moved to a hospital in New York. I was placed in pulmonary ICU. I woke up one night at 4 A.M. I was having nightmares. I told my wife I need to talk with the fire department chaplain, Father Mychal Judge. She was quiet for awhile. Is Father Judge dead? I asked. Yes. Ganci? Yes, Downey? Yes. That's enough, don't tell me anymore.

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