It is left to those who experienced the attack and destruction of the World Trade Center to explain to the rest of us how it was. Retired FDNY firefighter Dennis Smith did that in his best selling book, "Report From Ground Zero". The riveting and inspiring book is brought to television in a two-hour special, "Report From Ground Zero," airing Tuesday, September 10 (9-11 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network.
Both the book and now ABC Television, using Smith’s book as the basis for their two-hour production, eloquently and with all the solemn respect one could hope for, lead us through the moment of attack, the rush of the victims to escape and the rush of the rescuers to do their job. We listen to those who survived and follow those who searched for the lost.
Fathers look for sons, sons for fathers. Brothers look for brothers, friend for friend. Remarkably, the two hours are done within a calm, explanatory environment. The survivors are seated in chairs in stark rooms. The scene-setting video is largely without the crashing, screaming audio we have come to put with it.
The story follows the timeline of the incident beginning early with the statement of Deputy Chief of the Port Authority Police, Anthony Whitaker, "One of the intoxicants that the World Trade Center possessed was the sense of power. That this is where it happens."
Now the firefighters that Smith wrote about and who told their own stories, tell their stories to the camera, where they were, how they got there and what they had to do. It is amazing to listen to many who understood the possibility of death and disregarded it. To listen to those who understand they are alive because they made a left and not a right, that their friends are dead because they made a right instead of a left, is spellbinding.
There is an extensive portion told by the firefighters who were trapped and survived in the North Tower, Stairwell B. At the sound, they expected to die. Jeffrey Coniglio, Engine 39, "As each floor, and you heard each floor coming down, it was the most amazing sound that you could possibly hear." Lt. Mickey Kross, Engine 16, "I tried to crawl in my fire helmet is what I tried to do. If I could have gotten in there, I would have."
It follows that those who survived needed to find the lost. The stories are heart wrenching. The Higgins brothers, firefighters all who lost brother Tim but spent nights and days searching the site for his body and together carried his body out of the pit. "As the hours turned into days and days and days, and there were no sounds, no rescues. And I knew that my brother was gone." Bobby Higgins
Firefighter John Vigiano lost two sons, John Jr., a firefighter, and Joe, a police officer. Only Joe was found.
Lee Ielpi, retired firefighter, who lost his firefighter son Jonathan, and with his second firefighter son Brendan, carried Jonathan out of the pit.
After the tragedy is faced, the reality sets in. In their voices, the recovery becomes the hope and relief. "A great day is when we have taken somebody out of there. That’s a great day. And a really great day are those days when we took out 10, 12, 13 bodies, fire, civilian, PD. What a great, great day that is." Lee Ielpi.
And in death heroes are found. "I want you to look at those buildings, and I want you to say firemen booked at that and they ran into that. You better believe it." Lee Ielpi.
Dennis Smith’s credentials within the Fire Department of New York are extensive and unquestioned. Besides being immediately on the scene and continuously there after the incident, he knew the people, those who were lost and those who survived. The survivors are whom he went to and who tell their stories so eloquently in his book. ABC did an excellent job of bringing the book to television.
Smith has also established himself as a writer with a number of books published including the best seller "Report From Engine 82", an account of life in his South Bronx firehouse. Smith is also the Founding Editor of Firehouse Magazine, the sister publication to Firehouse.com.