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 . . . ?


And, Jay said, "Billy? What about me?"

It was then I learned that Billy was inside there with Jay all the time.

The next morning, Wednesday, they found John McLoughlin. He was forty-five feet down in the debris. It was a miracle. He was the last person taken out alive. But he was severely injured, and they rushed him to Bellevue Hospital.

So they had gotten Jay out, and they got John out, too, the next morning, and I thought that was unbelievable, so why wouldn't I believe they would find lots of people and rescue them? We just had that hope. Then, seeing these guys going down there every day, and coming back, talking about desperately digging down for their buddies into these pockets, and then hearing that there was nobody there . . . It is very overwhelming. Every wake I go to I have to say, this could have been me talking to all these firefighters tonight. This could have been me. Thank God, we were very lucky.

I don't know why.

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Dispatcher John Lightsey

John Lightsey has been a volunteer firefighter for twenty-five years in Hampton Bays, a small town on Long Island. He has also been a dispatcher for the last five years for the New York Fire Department, and the morning of September 11 is his turn to be up on the radio. He is working in the Manhattan dispatcher's office, which is located in a landmark building on the 79th Street transverse of Central Park. Dispatchers are assigned various types of duty at the start of each working tour. Today, as every day, some are working the phones with the 911 system, others the voice alarm system with the firehouses, and still others the DD desk, which is where the dispatching decisions are made-which fire company will be sent to investigate a complaint, for example, or which will respond to a report of a water leak, or a gas leak, or some other emergency that does not require a full first alarm assignment.

A call comes in reporting a smell of gas in the downtown district, and the 1st Battalion is called, as is Engine 7, and they are sent to investigate.

Not much happens in the early morning, at least not before nine. John knows that soon after that, many companies will be leaving quarters to go to company medical exams, training appointments, or regularly scheduled building inspections. They might also be attending a recently started program at the Brooklyn Headquarters Building where companies get outfitted with the newly mandated fire protective outerwear called bunker gear. For whatever reason they leave the firehouse, though, they must go on the air and inform the dispatcher when and why they are leaving quarters. The dispatcher will give them the necessary approval and note the time of departure for the records.

Suddenly, [at about twelve minutes before 9:00] Ladder 10, or it could be Engine 10, calls. Ladder 10 and Engine 10 are in the same firehouse, just across the street from the south tower of the World Trade Center. The officer does not wait for an acknowledgment: "A plane hit tower 1 of the World Trade Center. Transmit the box."

Just then a department voice alarm comes on. It is [also] someone from 10&10, saying, "A plane just went into tower 1."

I transmitted Box 8087, the building box for the north tower.

All of a sudden every phone in the dispatching center began to ring.

Not long after I transmitted the box, Battalion 1, on his way over there, came on and said, "Transmit a third alarm for this box."

Just after that, a battalion, I think Battalion 1, said "Transmit a fifth alarm."

And then, when the second plane came in, we got the order to transmit a second fifth-alarm assignment. We had at least twenty-five engines and sixteen trucks, maybe five or six battalions. Here in Manhattan we dispatched everybody, every company, from 125th Street on down. We sent them right on down to the World Trade Center-everybody on the west side, we sent them to #1 World Trade Center, and everybody on the east side we sent to Box 9999, at 2 World Trade Center. There was a lot of chaos. There was so much going on I couldn't tell you exactly what the names were, or who was transmitting what. At the time, we sent everybody out there instructions that they were to bring every piece of equipment they had in their quarters.