Chief Proper's Saxophone News for the Town of Colonie Emergency Services
The following article was written by Past Chief then 2nd Asst. Chief Kevin Terry of the Fuller Road Fire Department and was first printed in the Colonie PBA publication the 'Colonie guardian" vol.17 n. 1 July 2002
As I sit here on May 30, 2002 and watch the coverage on television of the removal of the final remains of Ground Zero, I cannot help but reflect on the tragic events of the morning of September 11, 2001.
The day started as many do when you are assigned to the C-line tour. I would normally sleep in until 09:00 or 09:30am. At about 08:58am, I was awoken by a telephone call that my answering machine answered. It was Mike Romano, an Albany Police officer and Assistant Chief in the Fuller Road Fire Department. “Dude, if you’re there turn on your TV, the City’s got a job at the World Trade Center. They said that a plane hit it.” I jumped from my bed and turned on my TV in the living room.
Every station that I turned on had a different view of the heavy black smoke emitting from the upper floors of the north tower. As I switched the TV to channel 10, I heard Charles Gibson say that from his view, he just saw a large explosion in the upper floors of the south tower. I called Mike back on his cell phone and told him that a second plane had hit. He was in Albany Police court for an arraignment, and I was filtering information to him as it happened. I then called my girlfriend, Jill, to tell her what was going on. There were all types of rumors going around as to extent of the terrorist activities going on. Jill asked me if the rescue team that we both belong to would be activated for this type of incident. I told her that FDNY’s resources far outweigh the resources that we would be able to offer them.
As I watched the incident unfold on TV, I called Steve Leonardo to see if he had been monitoring what was going on. He was watching it as well. We joked that we could be down there soon enough to get good pictures of this major fire. At this point, neither myself nor anyone I talked to had any inclination that these two giant buildings would fail. As I watched, the information about the Pentagon and the unaccounted for flight over Pennsylvania began to come out. I logged on to the Internet to attempt to get any additional information as to what was going on in the country. As I walked back out to the TV, I was awestruck when I saw the south tower completely collapse before my eyes. I called Steve back to tell him what happened. Immediately, we both began to think that the Urban Search and Rescue team might be activated to assist with this incident.
Shortly after this discussion, my pager was activated by the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control to put a team of responders on standby to respond to the City. I called Lieutenant Rich Villa on his cell phone and told him of the situation and inquired if Steve and I would be able to respond if needed. The Lieutenant referred me to the Chief’s office, where I spoke to Deputy Chief Geraci. The Deputy Chief told me to stand fast and that he would call me right back. Within two minutes Deputy Chief Geraci called me back saying that we were cleared to respond for as long as we needed to, but to just keep him informed of our location and our status. I thanked him and immediately began to put together my uniforms and all of my personal protective equipment.
At about 11:15 a.m. I met Steve at the team headquarters on Albany Street. Officer Gaunay was also assigned there to assist with any duties. We attended a briefing where we were told we were going to be deployed to the northern staging area. All of the team personnel and equipment were being gathered together for the largest deployment in our history. Our goal became to be on the road by 1:00pm. We were assembled in nearly a dozen vehicles to get all of us and our equipment in place. I drove my fire department chief’s vehicle with some equipment from the fire department on board. I had my girlfriend Jill, and Senior Dispatcher Tom Vogel in my vehicle with me along with a City of Saratoga Springs firefighter. We responded red lights and sirens from the team headquarters to Interstate 87 southbound. We made very good time until we approached the Ramapo rest area where traffic became much heavier. Just below the rest area we began to see the smoke cloud from the incident. As we approached the Tappan Zee Bridge traffic was gridlocked. It was a slow, painstaking trip over the bridge. All southbound Thruway traffic was forced to exit at exit 8. Just past exit 8 our convoy was met by an escort from the City of Yonkers Police Department. The north staging area was at the Yonkers Raceway.
As we pulled into the lot, it looked as if a large fire department parade was going on. There was fire apparatus and ambulance as far as you could see. We conducted another briefing here and shortly thereafter were dispatched to the forward staging area at the FDNY training academy on Randall’s Island, under the Tri-Borough bridge. When we arrived at Randall’s, we were told to get hydrated and to find something to eat because it was going to be a long night. This was my first opportunity to talk to some people that had direct knowledge of what was going on in lower Manhattan. I met with staff from the Office of Fire Prevention and Control. Deputy State Fire Administrator Dan Caffrey (retired from FDNY), Chief Thomas Wutz and Deputy Chief Paul Martin. It was these former co-workers of mine that briefed me on the situation-status. 350 firefighters missing, 100 police officers missing, maybe more than 5000 civilians unaccounted for. What hurt more than these numbers were some of the names that I began to hear -- Deputy Chief Ray Downey, Deputy Commissioner Feehan, Lieutenant Dennis Mojica, Firefighter Andy Fredricks, Firefighter Ray Meisenheimer and many others. All individuals that used to work for the State part-time, all friends.
A decision needed to be made. We were staged at Randall’s and communication to the scene was next to impossible. We knew that our help would be needed, but if we couldn’t let the command staff know that we were here and available that we would never get deployment orders. The call was made by Dan Caffrey to assemble and caravan into lower Manhattan. We crossed the Tri-Borough Bridge and went down 2nd Avenue to 34th Street to the West Side Highway. As we proceeded south on West Street, the area was gridlocked with ambulances, police cars, and fire apparatus. We sat in traffic for over an hour attempting to make our way southbound toward the site. We eventually cut over to Washington Street a couple of blocks north of Manhattan Community College. As most of our team members exited vehicles and assembled on the street, the discussion of the group was centered around the degree of damage. Paul Martin, Jill and I went for a walk out toward West Street and then down closer to the site. Once I got my bearings, I discovered that we were a half-mile from the Trade Center. The outer perimeter was being secured by NYPD officers. We were notified by radio that there may be an assignment for our team. As we worked our way back to the staging area, I saw Dan Caffrey talking to Tom VonEssen, the Commissioner of FDNY. We were once again briefed that we were going to Ground Zero, the north side, West St. and Vesey St. Our tool tractor trailer and our lumber flatbed trailer were escorted down West Street by a front-end loader that plowed the road of debris to allow us to proceed. I made sure that Jill was on the flatbed trailer and then got on the back myself. Continued on page 2