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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Firehouse: In 1993 and '94, when I did the original story on the 1993 bombing of the Trade Center, I had asked the deputy at the time if he had any special knowledge of the building from being down there, just because it was in Division 1. Did anybody in the department or did anybody at the command post or responding have any special knowledge of the building? I'm sure some of the chiefs had been there for incidents, but I'm just wondering if anybody had any special knowledge.

Nigro: I think we had the senior chiefs there, like Sal (Cassano), Gerry Barbara and Donald Burns, and that Pete and I all had pretty good knowledge of the building, how many the elevators there were or where the command posts were. Certainly, all of us at one time or another worked there or responded there. We knew maybe not everything about it, but bits and pieces about it. I don't know if any of us was the world's foremost authority, but there was a pretty vast pool of knowledge of those buildings working that day. I recall Donald Burns even saying don't worry about the radio frequency because you won't hear one building to the next. If you were on frequency 1, you could operate in both buildings, and he was right about that. They did learn that at the 1993 incident.

Firehouse: Did you work your way toward the command post and try to keep calling them?

Nigro: After the collapse?

Firehouse: Yes, after the first collapse.

Nigro: After the first collapse, we couldn't see whether the buildings were damaged, we couldn't see anything from the narrow streets on that side of the building. My idea was that I was going to work my way south and go down Broadway to West Street and then back up north -or at least go south until I could actually see where we were going. And as we got maybe halfway down, we heard the same noise, it was another dust cloud that seemed even worse than the first,and that drove us into the lobby of a building down there somewhere for five or 10 minutes until the dust sat down a little bit more. We weren't breathing too well at the time.

We walked down to West Street and found a large Field Comm truck with a tractor trailer. And two Field Comm members were in there, two communications guys and (Chief Medical Officer) Dr. Kerry Kelly and (Deputy Chief Medical Officer) Dr. David Prezant were there with an officer from either Engine 10 or Ladder 10. They weren't working that day. They were doing something else, they were on some sort of detail.

But it ended up there were six of us and I asked the people in the Field Comm truck, OK, what's going on, what do you hear on the radio, where's the command post?

And they told me the command post was on Broadway and Park Row, at the foot of City Hall Park. (Deputy) Chief (Tom) Haring (Division 6) was in charge and that's where the command post was. I immediately felt, again, that everyone had been killed because Chief Haring wasn't even there when I left the command post, so who was in charge?

We walked up to there and there was a large number of members and Chief Haring, and there were fires all over on the side streets, and there were vehicles on fire. They said the other command post, the larger one, is on West and Chambers. Chief Cruthers (Assistant Chief Frank Cruthers, citywide tour commander) was there. I continued on to there and found the remnants of our command post at that point. And that's where we continued to run the operation the rest of the day, from that west-side position.

Firehouse: Did there come a point in time that they had found some of the people or somebody had told you what had happened at the command post?

Nigro: Yes. When we got up to Chambers Street, we realized that we could see some of the people. Joe Callan was there. They said Chief Cassano was hurt, that he had to go to the hospital. Chief Ganci was missing. I got the rundown of who made it and who didn't. Commissioner (Thomas) Von Essen survived. (First Deputy) Commissioner (William) Feehan was missing.

Firehouse: What was the game plan at that time? Did you take over?

Nigro: Yes, once I got there, I took over and Chief Cruthers and Chief Michael Butler were with me. Chief Frank Fellini was running the operation back down at Vesey. (Butler and Fellini are assistant chiefs and citywide tour commanders). Chief Haring was running the operation on the east side.

Firehouse: What kind of game plan did you come up with for that day and for the next 24 hours?