Exclusive Excerpts from 'Report from Ground Zero'

  Also: Dennis Smith Pens 'Report from Ground Zero' Prologue September 11, 2001, 8:48 a.m. For decades to come people will ask of each other, where were you . . . ?

Then the second building collapsed, and I don't know why, but it wasn't affecting me the way it did when the first building did. I was upset, but it wasn't changing anything.

We have three phones, and they were all going at once. Someone called and said that Car 6 had called over the airwaves, and Jay used to be the volunteer chief here and he had Car 6, and I thought he was sending a message that he was okay. I said, Oh my gosh, this is great, reassuring. I called all three schools to find out what was happening with our children. I was concerned with Jennifer, who is 15, because they would have the television on in her school. I called the nurse and said just find her and tell her that her father is okay. And I was going to call John's school, he's 9, and Jane, who is 5, but the phone rang again, and I was told that it wasn't him, it was someone else. That made me feel very upset. Because now we're back to not knowing.

We were looking at the TV closely, looking to see if we could see John McLoughlin on the outside, or fire trucks, or anyone I know.

Then at about quarter to eleven, I get a call from Billy Butler's wife, Diane, and she tells me that Jay is trapped, but that they are trying to get him out. So now I am thinking that Jay is trapped, but that Billy is there trying to get him, and Billy is like a football field, so I know he will get to him. Billy can get to him with just his strength alone, so that's a good thing. He's on the outside working in.

But when Jay worked in rescue, he would tell me about certain jobs he had where people were trapped, so I know what the word "trapped" means. Many people who are trapped don't make it. So I am not very comforted. But it is good to know he is alive and they are trying to get to him.

I am watching the television, and they have only one thing to show, the building going down again and again, a hundred times. Every time I watch it go down I say, "How can anybody survive this? How can anybody be in there?" It is very stressful, and the wheels start to turn.

I am thinking that Jay was probably thinking about the Yankee game in there. And then I'm thinking, Oh, my God, how do I tell three kids that their dad is dead?

My emotions would go up and down depending on who called. When my brother called, I was hysterical because we lost both our mom and our dad in the last five years. I'm one of five, and we have been through those deaths, and I couldn't bear doing it again.

Jeremy calls me when he gets to Ground Zero. Every time I talk to him I break down, and I am putting like a thousand pounds on this young man because I said, "Jeremy, he's in there, go get him."

Later, when I look at pictures of the site, I can see how it wasn't so easy to just go in there and get him.

At about 2:30, Jeremy called me back and said, "I can hear his voice-he's out. It's going to take me an hour to get over there, Judy, but I hear him talking on the department radio; he's out, and they are taking him to the hospital."

We are all under such stress that I say, "Well, he's not brain dead. He's talking, anyway. I'm still thinking that he was buried up to his eyes."

In the meantime, when school got out at a quarter of three, Donna McLoughlin went home. Back in '93 when the bombing happened, her husband never called until late at night, and he had not yet called. But later that night, John's brother went to Donna's house and told her that John was missing. He was last seen walking from tower 1 to tower 2 when tower 2 collapsed. I went over there for a little while to be with her.

About fifteen minutes after Donna left my kitchen, Chris Staubner from Rescue 3 called and said, "I just kissed your husband twice."

I was so relieved. "Well," I said, "don't get used to that."

Chris said, "He's walking over to get his eyes washed out at the ambulance."

He's walking, I thought. Every piece of information helps. He's in better shape than I expected.

Jay finally got a phone that worked, and he called me. All he kept saying was "I love you," and he must have said that a hundred times. "I love you, I'm coming home."

I was so happy, I said to Jay, "I'm going to give Billy Butler the biggest kiss he ever had," thinking that Billy was one of those who got him out.