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Thread: Engine 009/ Ladder 006

  1. #1
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    Engine9/ Ladder 6 - Days of digging and grieving

    Only one New York fire company got out with every man alive

    NEW YORK - The machine inside the firehouse beeps twice.
    Another message starts printing.

    "Funeral for Firefighter Peter J. Carroll, Squad Company 1, Blessed Sacrament Church, Staten Island ... Funeral for Firefighter Danny Shurs, Engine Company 216, St. Edmunds Church, Brooklyn ..."

    Here in the home of Engine Company 9 and Ladder Company 6, this firehouse in the Chinatown section of Manhattan, these are the lucky ones. Of all the fire companies that had men inside the World Trade Center, theirs was the only one not to lose a single man. Lucky to cry the tears. Lucky to feel the guilt. Lucky to hear the incessant beeping ...

    "Wake for Lieutenant Michael Warchola, Ladder Company 5, Hillebrand Funeral Home, Queens ..."

    Brothers. Fathers. Cousins. Friends. Gone.

    The men working Engine 9 and Ladder 6 didn't wait to hear the call to go to theWorld Trade Center. A few of them saw a plane flying low toward the towers. They heard the explosion, and they went.

    They were there two minutes later. Peter Blaich, a 29-year-old whose father, two uncles and cousin also are New York City firefighters, was intent on gathering his gear from the engine - so he didn't see the bodies falling from the north tower. "Someone said, 'We have jumpers,' " Mr.Blaich said. "I kind of knew in the back of my mind that they were hitting the ground nearby, because you could hear the thuds." He didn't look. He just grabbed his stuff and ran toward the burning north tower.

    They sit around a table in the firehouse dining room, remembering. Lt. Jimmy O'Keefe scans the front page of the New York Post, which bears the names of the more than 300 missing firefighters.

    "McSweeney? Oh no, not him!"
    "Isn't that the guy who could hit the softball a mile?"
    "Yeah, that's the guy..."
    "Tommy Gambino? Oh God."

    The Fire Department had never lost more than 12 firefighters in a single day. That day was devastating. Losing more than 300, unfathomable.

    On a message board in the dining room, a note says, "We will be needed to step up and work for the neighboring co.'s so they can attend funerals. L-11, L-3, etc., etc."

    Ladder Company 3, less than a mile away, lost 10 men. Ladder Company 11, about 15 blocks away, lost six, every man it had at the towers that day.

    When the lobby elevator doors opened to Mr. Blaich's engine company, jet fuel gushed out, so they knew they knew they had to walk up. Ninety floors to where they figured the plane had hit, with each man carrying 100 pounds of gear. At about the seventh floor, they heard an explosion. The other tower had been hit. As they climbed, people streamed past, going down.
    Some people, fully clothed and calm, encouraged the firefighters as they brushed shoulders. Others were naked and whimpering, with charred hair and skin peeling from their bodies. A few of the naked ones covered themselves with jackets.

    Ascending the same stairwell just ahead of them, Ladder 6's Billy Butler and his fellow firefighters stopped on several floors to break the glass fronts of vending machines and grab bottles of water. They kept a bottle for themselves but handed out the rest.

    At about the 28th floor, they heard and felt a tremendous blast. Traffic quieted on their fire radios. If they had had time to listen closely, they might have realized that virtually no transmissions were coming from the other tower.

    It is Lt. Bob Marcoux's first day off after six days of digging - digging and crying.

    "You cry because you're human," he says. "You cry because you have to."

    He slept less than three hours last night, about average for a New York firefighter these days. He has a wife and two children in Campbell Hill, N.Y., a little more than an hour away. But he's not headed there.

    Instead, he silently puts on his dress uniform: white shirt, blue pants, clip-on blue tie, blue jacket with an American flag pin on its lapel and medals on its chest.

    On average, about three New York City firefighters die on the job each year. At their funerals, it's not unusual to see 10,000 fellow firefighters, from other firehouses, other parts of New York City, other states.

    But these days, the funerals are relatively empty. Hardly any firefighters have time to go, unless the funeral is for someone in their own company. Men from the Chinatown station spend their time manning their firehouse, digging at ground zero or volunteering at stations that lost men so that the survivors can go to funerals.

    "About 75 guys that I'd have over for dinner died," says Lt. Marcoux, a towering figure at 6-foot-5, with 22 years on the force.

    Today, his day off, he's headed for the funeral of one of those guys.

    "Collapse is imminent! Collapse is imminent."

    That cry over their radios, which came somewhere about Floor 25, stopped the ascent of Peter Blaich and the others from Engine 9. They turned and started down, stopping at each floor, yelling for people to evacuate.

    They found the lobby littered with slabs of concrete. A lieutenant from another engine company grabbed them and said: "I'm missing all my guys. Can you help me?" They stopped to help as the smoke grew thicker and chunks of the building fell around them.

    "That's when our lieu[tenant] said we have to go," Mr. Blaich said. "We didn't want to leave."

    One block from building, he was knocked to the ground by a flying tire. Another guy from his company dragged him behind a car as the freight train of concrete, steel, smoke and dust slammed past.

    When it had passed, someone dug them out from the rubble and helped them to their feet. Nearby, two other people lay deathly still, just lumps under dust and debris.

    Mike Price was the one who saved Peter Blaich.

    The sadness in his blue eyes is deep and palpable. His friends at the firehouse see it every day.

    "I give him a hug every time I come onto a shift with him," firefighter Nick Lucenti said. "You have to feel for him and what he's been through."

    Mr. Price hasn't been to any funerals, weddings or parties for the last two years. He has been mourning for his 5-year-old son, Mark, who died in a backyard accident. He wears a necklace with a photo of Mark and has another photo tucked into his helmet. There's also a gold guardian-angel pin on his helmet and on every shirt he wears.

    "He saved us," Mr. Price says in a soft voice, speaking of his son. "I could feel him watching over us."

    The engine guys were out, but Billy Butler and five other ladder guys were helping an elderly woman named Josephine down the stairs. She had walked down from the 73rd floor. Her legs were like jelly.

    "Josephine, do you have kids?" Mr. Butler asked.
    "Yes," she said.
    "Do you have grandkids?"
    "Those kids want to see you again," the firefighter told her, "so we have got to get you out of this building, OK?"

    Suddenly, it was black as night. Debris knocked them down and buried them. Bodies hurtled past them down the stairwell and landed a flight or two below.

    "I thought a bomb went off at the bottom," Mr. Butler said. "It was like an earthquake and a tornado wrapped up into one."

    When the maelstrom subsided, they dug out. Everyone from the company, six altogether, was still alive, as was Josephine.

    "Mayday! Mayday!" they yelled into the radio. No answer.

    It didn't occur to them that the whole building had fallen. They began to climb down again, through the rubble.

    A couple of floors down, they came to a yawning void, a drop of several stories to what remained of the lobby. There was nothing to do but wait and pray.

    The firehouse is like a fraternity times a thousand, filled with men who sleep in the same room on single beds and eat homemade food in the dining room. There are 58 men in Engine Company 9 and Ladder Company 6. And their culinary tastes are refined.

    "Geez, this soup is so salty, I can't eat it," Lt. Marcoux says, tossing it in the garbage. "Who made this?"

    Joking is like breathing. One favorite prank is to tie a string to a wallet, then toss it onto the sidewalk, reeling in whoever stoops to pick it up. The men never hesitate to hug one another. Or laugh together. Or cry.

    Like several of the guys, Matthew Komorowski has been on sick leave since last week, but - despite his wife's pleas - he can't stay away.

    "I want to work, get back there and dig with these guys," says Mr. Komorowski, a 38-year-old, 12-year veteran of the department. "But my wife ..."

    "Should I get a desk job?" he says, staring at the ground and lowering his voice. "But I can't work behind a desk. I just can't."

    From the stairwell, Billy Butler tried to call 911, using the phone of a Port Authority officer who was trapped with them. When he couldn't get through, he called his wife in Greenville, N.Y. After countless busy signals, he got a connection.

    "Diane, we're trapped in the World Trade Center, but I'm OK," he said.

    Diane Butler started whimpering. But her husband told her she had a job to do. She was to call the authorities for help.

    "Tell them we're in tower one, in the B stairwell at about the fourth floor," he said. "Calm down. You have to do this."

    So they sat, drywall and dust and other unimaginable things caked on their faces.

    Hours later, one of the radios came to life. A voice told them help was on the way, but it didn't arrive, even though they had given their exact location.

    "I'm thinking, 'Are these guys stupid?' " Mr. Butler said. "We know exactly where we are, and they can't find us? What idiots."

    What he didn't know was that the 110-story building had collapsed around them, and that they were in the middle of a sea of mangled metal.

    Article editted for length

  2. #2
    Administrator Neil's Avatar
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    Dec 2001
    South West


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