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    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    The Aftermath of Destruction

    Article from IAFF

    The Aftermath of Destruction

    Greg Barrett
    Gannett News Service

    Sept. 16, 2001

    NEW YORK -- Fire Lt. Dan O'Callaghan would slip into his fireman's pants with suspenders soon after arriving at work. While others milled about in shorts, O'Callaghan was always dressed, gung-ho, ready to roll.

    So it was, all suspect, when this firehouse to Broadway responded to the helter-skelter on that apocalyptic Tuesday. No one can say for sure, though. No one knows even which of the many fires O'Callaghan and his Ladder 4 crew were battling at the World Trade Center complex.

    When off-duty firefighters rushed to the Ladder 4 station to help, it was empty, the coffee warm. When they checked back much later, empty. The shift of 15 firefighters is gone, still, five days as of late Sunday when a gritty, dust-covered team of rescue workers from Ohio marched to the station and pledged its resolve to the hunt.

    More than 300 New York firefighters are missing, and the void at the West 48th Street firehouse, like other stations, is gaping. In an emergency ceremony Sunday, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani promoted a new chief of the city fire department, a chief of operations, four deputy chiefs, 29 battalion chiefs, 61 captains, 70 lieutenants.

    "This isn't like losing one or two," said Ladder 4 battalion Chief Charlie Williams, a 28-year firefighting veteran who has fought losing battles and lost friends before. "This is different. This is ... is a catastrophe."

    And the celebrated firehouse that protects the most celebrated swatch of Gotham City (emblazoned on its logo: "Never missed a performance") is missing one-fourth of its roster. An entire platoon.

    Tom Selleck, who is performing a half block away, Elizabeth Taylor, Valerie Harper, Brooke Shields have dropped in unannounced to offer condolences, mostly wordless. What do you say?

    "They just sit with the wives and listen," firefighter John Fila said. "Brooke Shields came in (Sunday) and stayed for an hour."

    Outside the station, bouquets of flowers are piled several feet high and dozens of candles burn nonstop. Bystanders gather in knots and stare in disbelief at photos of the 15. When trucks scream from the station now, crowds applaud, so apt for Broadway.

    "This is bizarre, man. It's overwhelming. Sometimes I don't think it's real," firefighter Arnie Galvez said Sunday, sitting on the bumper of a fire truck and watching the vigil outside, the constant rotation of strangers who stand in stark silence. Some pray or cry or glare, as if steeling themselves for revenge.

    Others, amazingly, have approached and cheerfully asked to snap a photo of slack-faced firefighters who remain on watch, as if the drama and its players are New York souvenirs. "But I think everyone has genuine good interest at heart," Fila said, kindly.

    Meanwhile, young children play and watch cartoons from secondhand couches in the back of the firehouse. They expect their fathers will return.

    "No one has told them otherwise," Williams said. "I have to believe that myself. I can't rule out the possibility that they are trapped in there."

    Optimism is scrawled in the dust of a Ford Explorer, loaned last week to one of the missing firemen: "Mike, you borrowed it, you better bring it back."

    The Ladder 7 battalion is divided into two groups today, those who stand watch over Broadway and those who comb the sickening wreckage of the World Trade Center. The air there tastes like chalk and smells foul, like fuel and rubber and decay. Some of the rescuers wear stethoscopes to listen for faint sounds in the concrete. Dogs are searching so fervently they've had to be given fluid intravenously.

    "You can't give up," said Galvez, who found one of the battalion's trucks parked alongside a burned-out building outside Tower One. "No way can you give up on those guys."

    Because somewhere buried in this compacted mess stacked 10 stories at the peak ("Who knew that 110-floor buildings could collapse into piles no more than 100 feet tall?" Fila said) is the gut of this firehouse.

    Most of Ladder 4's firefighters were in their 30s and 40s, a few had babies or babies on the way. The majority had children.

    "A lot of young guys," Galvez said, shaking his head. "A lot of them had a lot of time left on their careers. ... Man, they are going to be missed."

    There's O'Callaghan, whose name is still scribbled on the station's roster board; Chief Ed Geraghty, a studious fireman who initiated a citywide program requiring rookies to keep daily logs; Capt. Dave Wooley, Ladder 4's patient mentor; Mike Haub, a big German guy fluent in the language; Mike Lynch, a new father studying to become a lieutenant; John Tipping, a handsome snow skier; Mike Brennan, a "buff," someone who grew up wanting to be a fireman; Chris Santora, a rookie fireman and son of a fireman; Joe Angelini, an avid kayaker; Jose Guadalupe, a tough exterior, soft heart; Al Feinberg, the firehouse salesman and its supplier of goods; Lenny Ragaglia, a devoted friend who helped Galvez through his divorce last year; Sam Oitice, a muscular former college hockey player; Carl Asaro, a fan of the Grateful Dead ("Play a Dead tape down there and Carlos will find you," Galvez was told before he searched the rubble Sunday night); and Paul Gill, the doting father of two young boys whom he talked about nonstop.

    In the growing shrine outside this firehouse is a full bottle of Corona, opened and discretely placed among the candles. A pack of Parliament Menthol Lights is taped to it, as is a handwritten message: "My dear sweet wonderful Paul, I thought you might like a beer and a smoke after all you've been through. I miss you so much baby. Come home soon."
    Last edited by SeaBreeze; 01-14-2002 at 03:16 PM.

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