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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Nigro: There was a tremendous amount of fire burning in 7 World Trade Center. It was determined that it was structurally damaged, that a large amount of damage had been done to the structure by the collapse of the building and that even though there were some rescue operations or search operations in the area, the building was in such danger of collapse that we suspended all operations. Then we determined a collapse zone around 7 to move everybody back.

Firehouse: How big was the collapse zone?

Nigro: It was probably about two or three blocks in each direction. We were able to continue searching in one area because people had seen where Chief Ganci and Chief Feehan were and we continued to search that area and located them.

Firehouse: So 7 just got worse and worse?

Nigro: Got worse and worse and finally around -

Cassano: 5:30.

Nigro: - 5:30 the building collapsed.

Firehouse: The other buildings, the small buildings that were around -

Nigro: - had a lot of fire in a few of them.

Firehouse: Then you had water problems too?

Nigro: No water from the hydrants. I think all of our water for some number of hours was being provided by the fireboats. They supplied us with a number of lines. All the water for a while was from them.

Firehouse: The other buildings in the complex were burning and some of those were going pretty good. Now, there was one other building that was -

Nigro: 90 West St. had a tremendous fire going.

Firehouse: Was that the building with the scaffolding?

Nigro: It had scaffolding on it.

Firehouse: Was that being renovated or was it vacant?

Nigro: It was in the process of renovation. A couple of people died in that building.

Firehouse: A couple of people died?

Nigro: Yes.

Firehouse: So it took several hours to get the fires under control?

Nigro: Hours and hours and hours, simultaneous with doing a search, with doing an assessment of how many of the buildings were seriously structurally damaged and were in danger of collapse themselves. We were trying to get assessments of those. One of them was Bankers Trust.

Firehouse: That was the one on the south side of Liberty with the big gash?

Nigro: Yes.

Firehouse: How about mutual aid? Were you involved in any part of requiring mutual aid? Did that come from you or somebody else or through OEM (the Office of Emergency Management) from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties?

Nigro: I actually don't recall. I remember hearing about it, that we had companies from Westchester staffing Bronx firehouses and Nassau and Suffolk companies in Brooklyn and Queens, but I don't remember how we came to that conclusion.

Firehouse: With the people on the scene when these fires were controlled, the threat to extend to other exposures maybe was lessened. Then there were people were waiting to come down in buses and division areas and things like that. What was the word, just hold everybody on duty until we can figure out a plan?

Nigro: Yes. I don't remember how many hours passed before we went to a 24-on/24-off schedule.

Cassano: Several days.

Firehouse: The request for FEMA teams, was that done early?

Nigro: It was done pretty soon after the collapse through OEM. How many? I'm sure it's the largest number of FEMA teams that have ever been used anywhere.

Firehouse: Right. Did you have any concerns with the apparatus being replaced and the tools and equipment that were lost? The support services, I guess, took care of putting spare rigs and reserve rigs in service and things like that?

Nigro: Yes.

Firehouse: I mean away from the scene, not that you had -

Nigro: I don't think we knew if we'd be able to field enough or field all of our rigs.

Cassano: Early on, Chef Nigro was still down at the scene, and when I came back from the hospital, we had a meeting, I'd probably say around 6 o'clock that night. We had a meeting with (Deputy) Commissioner (Thomas) Fitzpatrick, (Assistant) Commissioner (Thomas) McDonald, (Assistant) Commissioner (Stephen) Rush and we started working on tools and equipment and apparatus right at that point. We had put in calls for Seagrave and different manufacturers of apparatus and started to put them on alert that we would probably need some rush orders on apparatus and the same with tools. Not much later than 6 o'clock we were doing that.