Fuller Road Fire Department

Serving The Town of Colonie, N.Y. since 1926

 

Chief Proper's Saxophone Page 3

 

We were next called further north to search an area just south of the north pedestrian bridge. As we negotiated the beams and debris, I saw that we were getting dangerously close to the shadow of III World Financial Center. This building had a tremendous gouge out of the side of it. At this point no one was assured of the stability of these surrounding structures. After a few more searches we were called by team leader Warren “Fuzzy” Carr to return to the command post. Once we finally got back to the trailer, Shawn and I were interrogated by our team command staff as to the enormity of the pile. We were re-hydrating ourselves and tried to cool down. At 4:00pm our squad was scheduled to go off duty for 12 hours. We were told that we could take a shower at the Manhattan Community College. Tom Vogel, Jill and I walked a dozen blocks north to where my car was parked to get our personal supplies. We walked into the college and found the locker rooms on the second floor.


Due to the fact that all of the natural gas service was shut off south of canal street, the hot water heaters at the college were not functional. Mayor decided that one of us should stand guard over our supplies while the other showered. I went first. It was the coldest shower of my life. The second I was done, I relieved Mayor so he could get cleaned up. While I was getting dressed, I talked with a few police officers from New Jersey that were getting changed in the locker room. When we were all cleaned up, we went out to West Street to meet up with the rest of the squad. One of them had found where Mr. Subb was handing out sandwiches on the street. We loaded up and attempted to find Chief Wutz. Our overnight accommodations were made at the Salvation Army shelter on East 14th Street. On the drive up there I called Mike Romano and my parents, who were vacationing in Myrtle Beach, to let them know what was going on. We met up with an officer from the Salvation Army who showed us where the cots were and where we could sleep. When we entered the auditorium, there were a number of team members already sleeping. Jill and I went behind the curtain on the stage to assemble our cots and take a nap.
 
September 13, 2001

We laid down at about 11:00pm and were awoken at 03:15am to get down to the site to relieve the night crew by 04:00am. Once the night crew was relieved and sent back to the mission, we were given our assignments for the tour. I was assigned to the command post to work with the team leader and Jill to develop an accountability system for the site. Our team began to do atmospheric monitoring for the site to try to determine the level of contaminants in the air. Our hazardous materials specialist advised us that we should wear Tyvek suits at the site to protect ourselves from all of the contaminants.

Around noontime Jill and I took a walk over to the Embassy Suites hotel at Vesey Street and North End Avenue, kitty corner from where the north tower had stood. We spoke to Michael O’Leary who was the building manager. He had been at the hotel since the incident had began. He told us how after the south tower had collapsed, he assisted wounded emergency responders as they tried to take shelter in the hotel. He said that he was taking a couple of firefighters to an awaiting ambulance in the rear of the hotel when the north tower collapsed over them. We asked Michael if we would be able to make accommodations in the hotel. He brought us to a conference center on the second floor of the hotel where we could set up. I called Steve on the handie-talkie to come over and give us a hand setting up the room.

As Steve got there, Michael opened up the room for us to go in. As the doors opened, the room appeared as a snapshot in time. There were laptop computers left out, luggage in the corners of the room, keys on the tables and other personal property strewn across the room. We assembled all of the valuable items to have them secured by the hotel. While we were in the process of setting up our space, we were notified by radio that OFPC personnel had been able to make arrangements for hotel rooms in Mid-Town. In the middle of the afternoon, we had our second “running of the bulls”. A gas leak was rumored in the area and a low flying helicopter along with some unsecured glass panels falling from window frames caused another mass exodus from the West street end of the site. One of our team members tripped while exiting the trailer, and fell breaking her ankle and getting trampled by some workers evacuating.

At 4:00pm the change of shifts occurred. Steve, Jill, and I drove up West Street toward the Clarion Hotel on East 40th Street. We gave a ride to a medical intern who was assisting at the site but needed to return to his hospital office.

As we drove up West Street above 14th Street, both sides of the street were lined with television satellite trucks. Boston, Texas, California, and Florida were among the areas represented. A little further north we saw two familiar faces. John Gray and Benita Zahn from Newschannel 13 were broadcasting from the sidewalk. Benita came over to my truck and conducted a quick interview with us. Once we got to the hotel, we needed to find a spot to park all of the vehicles and get all of us checked into the hotel. The first priority was to take a hot shower.

After we were cleaned up we walked up to 42nd Street and got a couple of slices of pizza for dinner. We talked to 4 NYPD recruits who were taken out of the academy and assigned to foot posts throughout the city. We got back to the room by 9:00pm and began to watch some of the news coverage of the incident. I knew that we needed to get to bed, because we needed to be in the lobby at 03:15am for breakfast.

  September 14, 2001
 
While eating breakfast, Jill came down with some intestinal issues that kept her from coming down to the site for the day tour. Steve and I drove down to the site in the pouring rain. Once on scene, I ran into Matt Peterson and Greg Serio who had worked the night tour. Due to heavy rains and lightning, all activity on the pile was suspended. We were assigned into 4 person teams (3 rescue specialists and 1 rescue squad officer) and told to find a dry place to wait for an assignment. Initially we went into the lobby of the Verizon building, but due to the numerous generators running in the lobby the carbon monoxide level was too high for us to remain inside. We all moved to the next building north of the Verizon building. Everyone tried to get comfortable on the furniture in the lobby.

Not long after, the manager of the building showed up and told us to make ourselves at home and utilize anything that we needed. He told us that the cafeteria was in the basement, but due to a broken water main the basement had about two feet of water in it. As we explored the rest of the lobby area, we found an unlocked newsstand that had bottled water and a snack bar. With the manager’s comments in mind, we took enough water for the squads staged in the lobby.

The weather broke around 11:00am or so. Steve’s group went out onto the pile first to search some of the newly exposed voids with our searchcams. My group was second to go out onto the pile. Steve’s squad and mine were working relatively close to each other. The debris on the piles was very wet and slippery form the soaking rains. We were working hand in hand with ironworkers that were cutting holes in the steel beams so we could put our searchcam probes into the pile. Steve and I began to work the same void where we had a strong odor of decomposition.

As we dug around this area we found an FDNY battalion chief’s vehicle. The more debris that we removed the more evident it became that the chiefs’ vehicle was crushed down to about 18 inches from the pavement. This particular area checked negative of any substantial-sized body parts. As we were moving debris in 5-gallon pails, we were having the K-9 teams check each bucket. If the dog indicated on the bucket, the contents would be dumped out and more extensively checked. My group was continuing to work an area with a particularly pungent odor. As we cleared debris, we found no parts bigger than a loaf of bread.

After about 2 hours we were being relieved by another squad. All of us were soaked through to the skin. We decontaminated our tools and ourselves and went to get something to eat. The Salvation Army had set up a mobile canteen on West Street and was serving hot meals 24 hours a day. Both Steve’s and my group were told that we would not be going back out onto the pile. We gathered our gear and got ready for the night tour to relieve us.

On the ride back to the hotel, we once again ran into the NewsChannel 13 anchors and once again gave a quick interview. Once back at the hotel, Jill was feeling much better. Jill, Steve and I went to ESPN Sportszone in Times Square for dinner. All of the TV’s in the restaurant were tuned to the various news stations that we were all glued to. After dinner we passed through all of the street vendors selling various WTC memorabilia. Once back at the hotel we immediately retire for having to get up at such an early hour again.   When Chief Wutz approached the FDNY command staff with that prospect, we were told that FDNY wanted us to remain on site for the foreseeable future. We had to begin to look at a long-range plan for being able to deploy personnel to the City on an on-going basis. It was determined that the majority of the team would return home on Saturday night leaving a skeleton crew of about 25 people for the weekend. My group was first due for assignments on this morning, so I ensured that all of my people were hydrated and properly equipped. At about 09:00am my group was deployed to the area of the north tower to assist FDNY and NYPD ESU with a large void they had uncovered. Due to the terrain, it took us about 45 minutes to get to the void from the access point on West Street.

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