While the events of September 11, 2001 where real and horrifying this is a fictional account of a fictional firefighter from FDNY Ladder Company 3. This is done in honor of the 11 brave men from Ladder Company 3 that entered the South Tower that September morning, but never came out.
I grew up in New York, in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. Even as a kid, I knew I wanted to be a firefighter. We lived across the street from the firehouse and me and my friends would often help the guys wash the trucks and equipment. I was always in awe of the guys at the firehouse and would stay up late staring out my bedroom window at the firehouse, daydreaming about the day I would be on one of those trucks. The firefighters were a big part of the neighborhood and everyone respected them. We moved away to Chicago when I was 17 for my dad's work but I still pursued my dream of being a firefighter. Chicago was a great department but I knew it was my destiny to come back to New York. And there I was, the happiest day of my life, and also the last.
I was so excited as I walked to the subway to head to work, it was my first day as an official New York City Firefighter. I had just moved back to New York from Chicago and transferred to FDNY. I had been assigned to Ladder Company 3 and got to meet all the guys that day. I was way ahead of schedule as I wanted to be early and get settled in.
I knew I would get hassled a little being the youngest guy in the company, but I would prove myself quickly. The brotherhood of firefighters is a very tightly bound group and once you are accepted you are family. So it felt like I was meeting my family for the first time.
The sun was shining that September morning as I exited the subway and walked the block to the Firehouse. I stopped in front of the building and just stared at if for a minutes, my heart beating fast with excitement. It was like a holy shrine to me, I remember the sun gleaming on the giant metal plaque, embossed with LADDER COMPANY 3, above the bay door. As I was standing there I felt someone beside me. I turned and another firefighter was looking at the building with me.
He looked at me and nodded. "Still makes my heart skip a beat. Once you fall in love with her there is no other. You must be the new guy, come on let’s get you settled in."
He walked off, without even introducing himself and I could tell he expected me to follow. I chuckled and walked after him. Once I had caught up I introduced myself and he shook my hand and told me his name. We entered the station and he stopped everyone we walked by and introduced me. It was still early for our shift so the station was getting full. He showed me to the locker room to stow my gear. I remember hearing what I thought was thunder and it seemed odd, because there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
As we were going through my gear the call came in, with the alarm bell ringing we grabbed our gear and headed to the bay. We stayed out of the way as this was a 3rd shift call but we were ready if needed. Over the loud speaker we heard the Captain call for all hands, to respond to High Rise explosion. We grabbed our gear and jumped on the back of the truck just as it was pulling out of the station.
I looked back at the station house and smiled as I realized my dream really had come true and then I turned and looked downtown. My heart almost stopped. The guys on the back of the truck were just staring. There in the skyline was the World Trade Center Twin Towers. One of towers had the biggest plume of smoke, I had ever seen, billowing out from the side. The driver and the Captain must have seen it too because I felt the truck pick up speed.
As we got closer I remember seeing people standing on the sidewalks looking up at the tower. I smiled as I thought, it's ok folks, the New York City Fire Department will handle this. Then the radio in my helmet brought my focus back to the smoking building. The Captain was giving us our orders.
"Ok guys we can handle this shit. We are tasked with evacuation, it's a big damn building with a lot of hurt or scared people in there. We get in there and we get them out. Keep together, don't get sep....."He stopped in mid sentence as we all watched a plane flying straight at the building, time stood still. It was like watching a movie, in slow motion, as the plane impaled itself into the side of the South Tower. Everyone around me was silent as we tried to comprehend what the hell had just happened. I was terrified at that moment and I could see the fear on the faces of my brothers near me.
The Captain snapped out of it and began talking to us again.
"Fuck, we are being rerouted to south tower, This changes nothing we still have a job to do. Remember we are Ladder Company 3, we show no fear. Let's get in there and get those people out."
I took a deep breath and pushed my fears aside. Those people needed us, they were counting on us.
The truck came to a screeching halt on West Street right beside, the South Tower and we jumped off and began deploying immediately. I could tell everyone was in automatic mode, our training took over, however none of us looked up. As we ran into the building I turned back and looked over my shoulder, at the city of my dreams for the very last time.
"The Ultimate Measure of a Man is not Where he Stands in Moments of Comfort But Where he Stands in Times of Challenge and Controversy" Martin Luther King Jr.
Ladder Company 3’s fire truck, last driven on September 11th, 2001, was damaged beyond repair during the collapse of the south tower.
In 2011, Firefighters stood alongside victims’ families and assorted bystanders and watched as the flag-covered, 60,000-pound fire truck was lowered by crane 70 feet below ground to become part of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
It will honor all those lost on September 11 2001, including the lost men of Ladder Company 3.
Captain Patrick (Paddy)J. Brown,
Lt. Kevin W. Donnelly,
James Raymond Coyle,
Jeffrey John Giordano,
John Kevin McAvoy,
Timothy Patrick McSweeney,
Joseph J. Ogren,
Steven John Olson.
Authors Ending Note
Castle Roland has set up a special forum to discuss September 11, 2001. I encourage everyone to share what you experienced on that day no matter where you were or what you were doing.