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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I realized the second tower came down and got me. (Several weeks after the incident, Fuentes learned about the 343 firefighters who were killed. Fuentes is recovering from his injuries.) I see six doctors a week. I just want to be the same guy I was on Sept. 10. People have been so nice to me. I am humbled.

Chief of Department Daniel Nigro (was chief of operations on 9/11)
32 years

FDNY Photo
Daniel Nigro

Chief of Operations Sal Cassano (was citywide tour commander on 9/11)
32 years

Firehouse: Chief Nigro, you were having a meeting when the attack occurred?

Nigro: We were having an informal meeting in Pete's (Chief of Department Peter Ganci) office that morning. I had gone back to my office already at the time the plane hit the north tower.

Firehouse: Did you see it?

Nigro: I heard it. I heard a loud thud and I thought that it was somebody dropping something upstairs. The next thing I heard was Pete yelling, "Look out your window, a plane just hit the World Trade Center." I stood up and there was a very clear view of the north tower and I could see a large volume of black smoke coming out of the north side.

Firehouse: Then you both responded together?

FDNY Photo
Sal Cassano

Nigro: Pete and I responded together in his car, so we could talk about what we were going to be doing.

Firehouse: Could I ask you about your initial thoughts while responding? I know the initial companies transmitted second and third alarms, and then I guess Chief Ganci or yourself asked for a fifth alarm?

Nigro: Right. Pete transmitted a fifth, probably at the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Firehouse: As you got closer, what could you see?

Nigro: We had a larger body of fire in a high-rise building than I had ever seen before. I know I told him that this would be the worst day of our lives. That's an understatement.

Firehouse: It would be the worst day of your lives?

Nigro: Certainly, that's the scenario of a lifetime, even in New York City. I was not thinking that this was a terrorist act. But a plane hitting the World Trade Center and on a business day is about as bad as I had thought it could get.

Firehouse: Did you see any specific amount of floors of fire as you were coming across the bridge? Could you estimate, or did you just see fire in various floors?

Nigro: It appeared to me like we had some amount of fire or smoke on 10 floors. That would have been just a ballpark guess.

Firehouse: When you arrived, where did you respond?

Nigro: On West Street. The division chief was beginning to set up a command post and the command board at the median. One of us or both of us said let's get to the west side of the street, it's a better spot for us to operate. And we decided on a location in front of 2 World Financial Center.

Firehouse: Had you been up farther? Had anybody else been up farther and then moved down south?

Nigro: I think we were a little closer to the median. Where they were setting up in the median was closer to Vesey Street. We moved it on the other side of that bridge, on the south side of the north bridge, and there were two garage ramps for the companies; they had the command post. We put them down in the garage so that if there was debris falling, it was a spot where you could be protected.

Firehouse: Was there a lot of debris coming down and were people jumping at that time?

Nigro: There was some amount of debris. When we first got there, I don't recall jumpers, but shortly after we got there, the jumpers started.

Firehouse: Were you at that position when the second plane hit?

Nigro: Yes. I don't know if we had moved yet or we were in the process of moving. We might have still been in the middle of West Street and heard the roar of another plane, which immediately made you look up. And all I saw was a blur, a crash. I didn't know what hit the building.

A civilian ran up to me - I think maybe an EMT, but not one of ours - and said that it was a military plane that just fired a missile into the building and it headed north, which for a moment I was considering because I really didn't see it. (Assistant Chief) Gerry Barbara was concerned that the plane we saw had hit the building. At that point, anybody who didn't know yet that it was a terrorist attack - almost everyone had the same feeling that I had, that these two planes hit the towers on purpose, and what else is going to happen?