People caught in the towers were calling in, from above the fire floors. From what they were telling me, these people were very excited. You could see what they were dealing with on the TV. Normally we would call the division chief on the air, and give him the floor numbers. We realized that no one was going to get to those people above the fire. So we had to decide, do we transmit this on the air, or just put the information on the side and transmit everything going on below the fire floors?
I knew I had the biggest event in my life when those towers came down. No one would ever, ever even dream about something like that. Marine 6 was transmitting over the air, and everyone started yelling, Urgent! over the radio-tower 2 had just come down.
The worst thing was when everything got to dead silence after the collapse. For at least fifteen or twenty minutes there was dead air. We tried to raise anyone at the location. We tried to raise Division 1. We tried raising field com. Some of the companies. But nothing. We kept trying and trying. We had turned the TV off because we all had a lot of good friends in there, and it got to be too much. A few of us still can't come to terms with this. Just the thought of it all, trying to accept it.
All during the day we gave each other little hugs, and support each other. My tour had started at 7:00 a.m., and I stayed until eight or nine that night at the radio. I stayed there for three days straight. We just spun out on the floor and got some rest.
I get teary eyed because of the people I knew who we sent down there. Just thinking about them being down there. Or feeling guilt about assigning all those companies at the same time. We didn't follow the rules; we went above the rules. We went ahead and assigned more than was necessary because of the instinct. A chief, Joe DeBernardo, told me, "You have to look at it this way. You are not going to stop a firefighter from going in," and he said, "what you guys did down there in sending as much manpower as you did, you ended up saving a lot more lives than what they lost."
Hardly anyone here talks about it. We go to the wakes and the memorial services, but we don't talk about it much. A few of us leave the room when we do the four-fives [the traditional fire alarm signal for a death in the line of duty]. They get upset. Everyone is still pretty stunned.
About the Author - Dennis Smith Dennis Smith is the founding editor of Firehouse Magazine and the best selling author of Report From Engine Co. 82 and other books. He has completed the federal Series 7, Series 63 and Series 65 exams and is a licensed financial advisor. Dennis Smith will be providing some financial insight beginning with the January issue of Firehouse Magazine, as well as authoring regular on-line commentary for Firehouse.com.