Fire truck from Clintonville embraced by FDNY Ladder 10
Reprinted from The Post Crescent, Appleton - Neenah - Menasha, Wisconsin Copyright 2002 by the Appleton Post Crescent and Gannett News Service. Some last names have been deleted from this reprint. Originally Posted Sep. 12, 2002
By Ed Culhane Post-Crescent staff writer
NEW YORK — For the firefighters of the Ten House, September 11, 2001 was the day a blue sky turned black and bodies rained from the sky.
They were beginning a new shift, at 8:46 a.m., when terrorists attacked the World Trade Towers, spiking them with two hijacked commercial planes, each loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel.
John M is a driver on Ladder 10 Company, which was stationed with Engine 10 at 124 Liberty St., across the street from the World Trade Center. They call it Ten House. It is the only fire station inside Ground Zero.
“We all jumped up from the table,” John M said. “We ran to the front of the apparatus. The sky was completely black. It was just all debris raining down on the street, papers on fire, pieces of computer, bodies just flying out, just things coming at us …”
They were the first to respond. The two companies lost five men that morning. When they found the burnt wreckage of Ladder 10, weeks later, it was buried under 40 feet of rubble.
This company would eventually receive the first of the New York fire trucks and engines manufactured after the attack by Seagrave Fire Apparatus in Clintonville. It was the first of four completed in record time to begin meeting an emergency order for 54 New York pumpers and ladders.
The grieving employees of this Wisconsin company poured their hearts into this truck, emblazoned on both sides with a bold, unfurled American flag and with images of dust-encrusted New York firefighters raising the flag at Ground Zero.
When it rolled out of Clintonville, people lined the streets. Some cried.
“We were crying when it came here, too,” said a senior New York firefighter, Lt. Andy Grif. “It’s a beautiful truck.”
The firefighters of Ladder 10 Company said they are proud and grateful to work on this rig. It means a great deal to them, apart from the improvements included by Seagrave. But for a long time, for months, they thought there would be no company, no truck.
After the attack, Ten House — a small, two-story building, blistered by the collapsing towers but still standing — was commandeered by police as an emergency command center. Firefighters came to believe the city would close the fire station, disband its engine and ladder companies, disperse their surviving members to other stations.
“It was just one less company they had to fill,” said Kevin Ekberg, a Ladder 10 firefighter.
The surviving members of Ladder 10 Company went 160 days without a truck. They were put to work on the wreckage of the collapsed World Trade Center buildings — New Yorkers called it “the pile” — tagging body parts, day and night, using GPS technology to map the crime scene. It was grueling, dangerous, unending work in a hellish landscape.
Without a truck, without a house, they were no longer allowed to be firefighters. Other firefighters gave their time at Ground Zero, but they had stations.
“At least they had a tour in the fire house,” Ekberg said. “We didn’t even have that. Every day it was back to that pile. It was a little too much.”
The attack and the destruction of the twin 110-story towers killed 2,819 people in the space of 103 minutes. Among the dead are 343 firefighters and 70 New York and Port Authority police officers.
Firefighters and police evacuated 25,000 people before the collapses. They saved thousands of lives in those few minutes, at a terrible cost. Their actions were so heroic, so selfless, they inspired a wounded nation.
This is the story of Ladder 10 Company.
“This is a bad situation”
It was shift change when the north tower was hit between the 94th and 98th floors by hijacked American Airlines Flight 11. There were extra firefighters at hand. In the station, John M said, it sounded no worse than a truck hitting a manhole cover.
But firefighter Serge Pilupczuk ran back to the kitchen table where the covering officer, Lt. Stephen Harrell, and other firefighters were talking. He said a plane just hit the trade center. The color had drained from his face.
“To see a fireman scared scares the shit out of you,” John M said, “because we go into dangerous situations all the time and don’t ever see any fear in anybody’s face.”
Outside was pandemonium, thousands of people running, some burned, some bleeding. Out the rear door, the sky was blue. Out the front, it was black. They pulled some of the injured into the station. John M turned and yelled to the newest Ladder 10 firefighter, Sean Tallon.
“Sean, you gotta be careful,” John M said. “This is a bad situation.”
They boarded the rig. John M was the chauffeur, a job for experienced firefighters with additional training. His officer, Lt. Harrell, sat next to him. Four on-duty and three off-duty firefighters climbed on.
John M drove only a few yards. Bodies on Liberty Street blocked his path.
“I stop the rig, and I look at my officer and say, ‘It’s a body,’ and he says, ‘You gotta go. They’re dead, you gotta go.’ So we rolled over them, pulled down the street.”
Turning left on Liberty, they were blocked again by a Lincoln Town Car, a taxi. The woman inside couldn’t get it moving. The siren was on, lights flashing, firefighters yelling from the rear of the truck. A police officer jumped in the Lincoln but couldn’t engage the shifter.
“So I had to ram the car,” John M said. “I push the car, it goes up on the sidewalk.”
They turned right onto West Street, nearing the entrance to the north tower. A man — in shock, his clothes on fire — crossed in front of them.
“He’s completely engulfed in flames, and he’s looking at me because now he thinks I’m going to run him over,” John M says.
John M skidded the truck sideways to stop the man from running and got out as another man came charging off the sidewalk and tackled the burning man, damping out the flames with a jacket. They were 100 feet from the tower entrance.
As John M and off-duty firefighter Terry Rivera doused the burn victim, wrapped him in a burn blanket and got him into an ambulance, Lt. Harrell led his inside team, firefighters Tallon and Jeffrey Olsen, into Tower One.
“What we didn’t know, and found out later, was that when the plane hit, the jet fuel came down the center elevator shaft, and it lit up in a big fireball in the lobby so that people in the lobby were incinerated,” John M said. “This man must have been close by and he was burned.”
Later, they would learn the burn victim survived.
“An all-out assault on New York City”
Lt. Harrell’s team was followed up the stairs by on-duty firefighters Pilupczuk and Mike Cancel and by off-duty firefighters John Moore and George Bachman, who did not have air tanks. John M told Rivera, who had no equipment, to help in the street outside.
A ladder truck’s crew of six is divided into a three-member inside team, or forceful-entry team, and a three-member outside team. The inside team is the officer, the “irons man” and the “can.” The irons man carries a Halligan — a combination chisel, spike and forked pry bar named after the New York firefighter who invented it — and a flathead ax. The “can” carries a tank of pressurized water and a six-foot hook.
Their job is search and rescue, and to locate the fire. With the tools they carry, or with torches or hydraulic equipment from the truck, they can break into any building, force any door, crack open any elevator.
The outside team includes the chauffeur, who on a rear-mount aerial like Ladder 10, can operate the ladder, extending it 100 feet from ground level in less than a minute, using it to punch through windows if necessary. “OV” (outside vent) is the firefighter responsible for venting the building. “Roof” is the firefighter who goes up top, sometimes alone, opening a vent above and looking around the perimeter for people hanging out of windows. They can lower other firefighters to rescue trapped occupants or rappel down the face of a building themselves.
Skyscrapers are different, these firefighters said. Built with generally fireproof materials, they are designed to contain fires. Fire crews don’t vent them, so the OV and Roof can join the forceful entry team inside. Firefighters locate the fire (which can be tricky) and get off the elevator two stories below, where hoses can be hooked to stand pipes. The stand pipes are pressurized by the fire engines, the pumpers, down on the street. The attack is made from stairwells.
To maximize office space, the north tower of the World Trade Center, like its twin, was built around a central skeletal shaft of elevators and stairwells, firefighters said. The commercial jet severed this shaft, the stairwells and the standpipe. There was no escape, no hope for the 1,344 people above the 91st floor. Many shattered windows for air, 1,200 feet above West Street. Many jumped, choosing this death rather than incineration, crashing onto a veranda above the pavement.
“Every body that hit sounded like an explosion,” John M said.
Just inside the front entrance, John M found two victims of the fireball. A man, already dead, was pushed against a wall, his clothes gone, his eyeglasses blackened, his tongue lying on the floor next to him. The other was a woman, with no clothes, her hair burned off, her eyes sealed.
“The woman, she sat up. I’m yelling to her, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to help you,’” John M said. “She sat up and was trying to talk, but her throat had closed up. She died right there.”
They covered the bodies so people coming down the stairs wouldn’t see them and panic. Harrell called John M on his radio and told him to check the perimeter. John M went out into the plaza between the buildings, looked up, made his report — fire all around Tower One, all upper floors burning.
Then he looked at the plaza. At this point, they still didn’t know it was a commercial airplane. They figured something smaller; maybe a pilot had a heart attack. But then he saw suitcases, purses and wallets everywhere on the ground and as he looked, he saw pieces of flesh, pieces of scalp, arms, hands, all around him.
“Then I realized this was a lot bigger than I thought,” John M said.
Back inside, John M joined other firefighters who were evacuating the building. They heard on their radios that a plane had hit 2 World Trade Center, the south tower. It had only been 17 minutes since the first plane struck. By now, more than 200 firefighters were on the scene, with more on the way.
Now they knew it was a terrorist attack. Then they heard a plane hit the Pentagon. They heard early, erroneous reports that a plane crashing in Pennsylvania hit a shopping mall, that another plane was shot down over the Hudson River.
“In my head, I’m picturing that this is an all-out assault on New York City,” John M said.
The elevators in Tower One were out of service, some blown out of their shafts, the people inside them killed. People were coming down the stairs by the thousands.
Rather than put the building’s surviving occupants out onto West Street — where debris was falling, where bodies were striking the veranda — firefighters and police directed them through the lobby and down escalators into the subway. There they could walk for three or four blocks and come up a safe distance away.
Many of the people coming out of Tower One were burned, others badly cut, flesh hanging from open wounds. The firefighters yelled at them to walk slowly, not to run. The marble floor of the lobby was soaked by the sprinkler system and covered with broken plate glass, with blood.
“If they’d run, they’d slip and cut themselves wide open,” John M said. “But they were listening to everything we were saying. They were helping one another. They were carrying one another. They were helping older women, they were helping older men, they were helping handicapped people. With all this …. going on, they were helping one another.
“I was proud of them.”
He knew the last person down, the wife of a firefighter. He told her that her husband was alive. She went into the subway. The lobby was being emptied. Harrell, Tallon and Olsen were still climbing stairs. Pilipczuk, in his 50s, suffered chest pains on the stairwell — a mild heart attack — and was ordered to stop. He was evacuated by Cancel, who was later stopped from re-entering.
John M entered another lobby area and found people up on a veranda, milling around, some taking pictures. He told them to leave the area, that they were in danger.
He turned, walked through a doorway, and the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed behind him. The 110-story building came down in eight seconds, creating a hurricane force blast of crushed masonry and hot black smoke that blew through the lobby of Tower One like a wind from hell.
The wall behind John M collapsed.
“I got picked up. I got tossed around the room, and I was screaming, ‘God please. Don’t let me die, God,’ and I heard beams crashing, and then it stopped, and I was alive.”
Alive, but beginning to panic. The smoke was so thick he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. He turned his air cylinder on, took a couple hits of air, collected himself. He searched for a way out, found a window. Before crawling through, he clicked on a small flashlight clipped to his jacket, turned and yelled: “If anyone can see my light, if anyone can hear my voice, I got a window. This is a way out.”
Another fireman, Lt. Girard Owens of Engine Company 5, came out of the darkness with five people. Thrown against the ceiling in the north tower basement, Owens had a broken rib and an injured hand.
“Myself, and Lt. Owens and these five people were the last to exit that building before it collapsed,” John M said. “We were the last ones to get away.”
Owens would later tell John M that if he hadn’t called out, hadn’t shown them the window, the six of them would have died.
Outside, they saw the upper floors of Tower One collapsing.
“I thought I was going to get killed in the street,” John M said. “I was not far enough away. I was just running, trying to find water. I wanted to jump in the water to get away from it. I got about a block, and it just went in on itself and I realized I was going to be all right.”
He searched for his company, found the survivors sitting near the Hudson River.
“It was very quiet after everything fell. It was like the nuclear winter with the smoke and the dust everywhere.”
“I had to find my brother”
They knew that Harrell, Tallon and Olsen were not with them. They had died in the collapse. Harrell, 44, was a gifted musician who played in several bands. Olsen, 31, had earlier been commended for saving a family from a fire in Brooklyn. He was married, with three children. Tallon, 26, was a Marine, still on reserve duty, a man known for his gentle nature. He loved Irish music, played the button accordion.
Later, they learned that two other firefighters from their house were killed.
Lt. Gregg Atlas, 44, was the officer on Engine 10, the only firefighter on that pumper to die. He was racing up the stairs ahead of his nozzle team to assess the fire. Survivors report seeing him above the 50th floor, still climbing.
Paul Pansini, 34, was covering a shift on Engine 26. Every firefighter on that engine died. Pansini had three children.
Moore, without an air tank, was forced to evacuate Tower One and survived. Bachman, also without full equipment, got out just seconds before John M. He dove under a car when Tower One collapsed and was partially buried but not harmed.
John M called his family on a cell phone, and found that his younger brother, a firefighter with Engine 228 out of Brooklyn, had been dispatched to the Trade Center an hour earlier.
“I turned around and went right back to the place I just tried to get away from because I had to find my brother. I was all emotionally disturbed at that point.”
For five hours, he thought his brother was dead. His name was on an early list of the missing. He didn’t have the heart to inform his family.
John M went back to work, putting out fires. There were fires everywhere. Cars and ambulances were burning. After hours of this, he stopped, overwhelmed by the heat, sat down, splashed water on his face, looked up and saw his brother walk by.
“I grabbed a hold of him. I said, ‘We gotta stay together.’ I called my family and let them know. They were all excited and thanking God that we made it.”
Ekberg and Ladder 10 firefighter Eddie Thompson, the chauffeur relieved by John M that morning, heard of the first plane striking and drove together toward Manhattan. They had to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which was covered with smoke on the island side.
“It just seemed so helpless and hopeless,” Ekberg said. “It was overwhelming. I didn’t think the fire house would be standing.”
They found their off-duty captain, Paul Mallery, and began searching for survivors. They climbed down into the subway to get under the towers, the same subways that had been an escape route, but they were now crushed and impassable.
“Everything was on fire”
Firefighter Pete D’Ancona, another 10 chauffeur, was ahead of them. He had been scheduled to work, but had to make a court appearance as a witness to an assault. He’d asked Jeffery Olsen from Engine 10 to cover for him. When he heard a plane hit Tower One, he called the court, said he wasn’t coming in, and turned his car around. The prosecutor said the judge was ordering him to appear.
“I told him, ‘You can tell the judge I’m going to the firehouse. My guys are there,’” D’Ancona said.
By the time he reached the island, the south tower was down. Thousands of people were fleeing the financial district.
“Everybody was gray, covered in soot,” D’Ancona said. “You couldn’t tell what color or nationality anyone was. They were all gray.”
He was on Washington Street, which dead-ends into the Trade Center from the north, when Tower One came down.
“It was like an avalanche coming at me through a valley,” he said.
He crammed himself face-first into a doorway.
“This stuff came through and it was hot. It had a hissing noise to it, with a big gust of wind. It was like wiping crushed glass on your skin. There was nobody on the street. Everything was on fire, buildings, cars, awnings.”
He found Ten House, its windows blown through. It was as bad inside as out. His boots were missing, so he put on someone else’s work boots and his bunker pants. Joining other rescuers, he searched for survivors. They found a firefighter trapped under a crushed stairway, filling with water from broken water mains. A thick, powerful man, D’Ancona found a broken piece of steel and they used it to pry the firefighter free.
He began searching for survivors, but there were no others. He worked constantly. Dust was caked two inches thick under his clothes. His feet were wet for three days. Their firehouse became a temporary morgue.
“We tried to treat everyone that we found like family,” he said. “It was personal.”
For dazed firefighters, the next three days were a nightmare from which there was no waking. Eyes and throats burned. They worked the “bucket brigade,” clearing rubble in the search for survivors. They carried out bodies in solemn processions, officers calling, “Hats off,” to volunteers working the pile.
After several days, city officials gained control of the site. Soldiers secured the perimeter. Ten House was turned into a command center for police, fire and health officials. The Ten House firefighters were put at their service, expected to more or less run errands. They quickly rebelled.
“We’re not here to be slaves for the police,” John M told them.
Commanders deemed it too traumatic for firefighters from lower Manhattan to dig for bodies, so the Ten House firefighters were trained to use GPS units. Their job was to respond when body parts or personal effects were found in the pile and to simply mark the exact coordinates. It was a crime scene.
It didn’t work out that way.
“It turned into going down there with the GPS, digging out the body part, putting it in the bag, labeling it … ‘firefighter’s boot with foot’ … handing off the tag to one of the chiefs, putting the bag in a cart and taking the cart to the morgue,” John M said.
“That wasn’t too traumatic for us,” he added, darkly.
They were meant to work 24 shifts every third day, but they ended up working days on end, grabbing a day off when they could.
“Every time everybody on that pile found something, we were called to go and label it,” John M said. We had it broken up into three teams of two but it was just continuous. We were out all the time.”
Days stretched into weeks. When they did lie down, sometimes the building would shake, and the shell-shocked firefighters would jump up and run.
“We never got away from it,” D’Ancona said. “We never left. We were always there. There was no escape from what happened, in our heads.”
After almost two months of this, they could no longer take it. They collectively went on sick leave. By then, the community had rallied behind them. They demanded to be put back to work as firefighters.
A month later, D’Ancona became ill and had to undergo surgery to have glass particles removed from his sinuses.
“Something they could stand behind”
The massive death toll in New York sent a wave of shock, anger and sorrow across the nation. In Clintonville, the grief was savage. Seagrave workers here have been building fire trucks for New York since 1963, and New York firefighters make regular business calls in “Truck City,” stopping by Cindy B’s tavern after work hours. Like proprietor Cindy Beery, many of Seagrave’s 360 employees in Clintonville knew firefighters who were killed.
The company reacted immediately. Engineers, mechanics and parts specialists were dispatched from Seagrave’s South Plainfield, N.J., facility, where warranty repairs are made and where new FDNY trucks are fitted with communications and markings. They were in New York the day after the attacks. Seagrave manager Tom Grein rented hotel rooms so they could work constantly without having to return home. In one week, they helped FDNY mechanics get 130 damaged trucks, engines and rescue vehicles running.
Seagrave president Jim Green was in New York the following Monday, meeting with Tom McDonald, assistant commissioner of fleet services. The fire department had lost 90 vehicles, including about 40 engines and trucks. Replacing them was an emergency.
The fire department in New York operates with 210 front-line fire engines and 143 front-line ladder trucks. Another 30 spare engines and 30 spare trucks are kept ready as temporarily replacements. There are 22 reserve pumpers and 10 reserve ladders, fully equipped but without crews, that are strategically located around the city in the event of a large-scale disaster.
Some of the reserves come from different manufacturers, but every one of the 353 front-line engines and trucks are manufactured by Seagrave. They are unlike any other fire trucks, built to fit under low ceilings and squeeze into the narrow buildings offered by the city’s old buildings. Cabs don’t tilt to engine access. Instead, there are removable panels. Recessed handles save six inches of width on each side.
McDonald wanted Seagrave trucks.
“The support network Seagrave puts in place is above and beyond what we see from other manufacturers,” he said.
But now McDonald was under pressure to order from several manufactures, to cut delivery time. He asked Green if Seagrave could handle the whole order, 54 trucks and engines, and if the company could start delivery in 120 days.
Normally, it takes 10 to 12 months for the first truck of a new order to roll out the door.
Green said he’d get back to him, flew home and held an all-employee meeting. He told the workers New York was asking for the near impossible. It’s a union shop at Seagrave, and there is no mandatory overtime.
“The employees said (to) commit to whatever you have to, we will make it happen. We will do whatever it takes,” Green said.
Two days later, they were awarded the $25 million emergency order.
“I think more than anything else, there was an emotional commitment,” Green said. “We came up quickly with seemingly impossible production schedules, shared them with employees and our vendors. I don’t think anyone at the start knew how it would be done. We just knew we would do it.”
It meant rescheduled vacations, working weekends and holidays. It meant massive overtime. At the Plainfield facility, the six weeks it can take to equip and mark a truck to FDNY specifications would be cut to six days.
The employees of Seagrave would set new production records. They beat the schedule, making fire trucks faster than promised.
It wasn’t enough. Ralph Edwards, a second-shift supervisor, said some of the workers — like Jacob Gibbs, a welder who helped fabricate the cab for Ladder 10 — approached him about putting a mural on the first truck with their own money,
“We hoped it would build their spirits up,” Gibbs said.
Edwards liked the idea, but needed more. Another worker did the first sketch, then machinist Justin Pflieger spent a weekend creating the final design. Everyone in the company contributed. They used the now famous image of firefighters raising a flag at Ground Zero the day after the attack. The finished graphic was produced by RJ Marx, a Grand Chute company that lays gold leaf on emergency vehicles.
“We wanted something, some picture, that would actually mean something,” Pflieger said. “Something they (New York firefighters) could stand behind.”
“We wanted the firehouse back”
In the days after the attack, many of the people in the neighborhood Ten House had always protected — called Battery Park City — wanted to know what happened to their fire companies. One of them was Rosalie Joseph, whose apartment building was badly damaged when the towers collapsed.
“The community was trying to get to the firehouse, but couldn’t because it’s in Ground Zero,” she said. “We couldn’t get anywhere near it.”
She found a firefighter she knew and was told the survivors of Ladder 10 and Engine 10 companies were assigned full-time to the recovery effort.
“Our guys were literally living on the pile, working on the pile, in the middle of it, living there for weeks,” Joseph said. “These guys I am talking about, they were the first in. After I found out what was happening, my friend Mary Reynolds and I decided we had to do something.”
Then she was told the city planned to close the house, disperse the companies. As this news spread through Battery Park, the residents became deeply disturbed. They were to lose their firehouse.
More compelling, however, was the fate of their companies.
“They were dispersed,” Joseph said. “They not only lost their brothers, they lost their home, they lost their ability to be firemen and to protect their neighborhood. They lost their family. Literally, they had a tragedy.”
She found Capt. Mallery. He wanted the company restored and agreed to work with her, as did Capt. Gene Kelty of Engine 10 Company.
Joseph, director of casting for ABC Television, organized a committee of concerned neighbors, started a petition and then mounted an all-out effort to restore the companies and save Ten House. There were fund-raisers, including one directed by Tom Fontana, creator of the Oz show on HBO. It featured appearances by television stars from New York, including the cast of Law & Order.
A freelance writer and friend of Joseph, Benita Gold, began working on a story for the New York Post. In late October, she called the office of the Fire Commissioner, asking for a quote about the disbanding of the companies.
“When they knew an article was happening, they put Engine 10 back in service,” Joseph said. “It happened the day before the article came out. They called her and said they were bringing back Engine 10 and housing them and their engine at the station on South Street.”
Engine 10 went into service on Saturday, Nov. 3. Because the city was short on firefighters, both Ten House companies were assigned to the engine.
“That night we caught a job in our district, a fire in Battery Park City,” Kelty said. “They gave a wrong address, but we knew it was the Gateway Plaza. There was a fire on the sixth floor.”
They got to it before it could spread. No one was injured.
“The problem then became Ladder 10,” Joseph said. “They were still out of service.”
Now Joseph and the others began collecting political weight, starting with newly elected city councilman Alan Gerson and eventually including state Sen. Martin Connor and virtually all the elected local officials in lower Manhattan. This went on for weeks.
“It was a very long process, especially for the ladder company,” Joseph said, “and the thing is, we still don’t have a fire house.”
In February, when enough support was lined up, Gerson called the newspapers and scheduled a press conference. The night before the conference, the Fire Department announced Ladder 10 Company would be reformed and put back in service.
The official position of the fire department is that there never was a plan to disband the companies or close Ten House. It was simply a matter of not having enough firefighters or equipment.
Engine 10 Company was then moved several blocks north to Duane Street, with Engine 7 and Ladder 1, on the north edge of Battery Park. Ladder 10 Company was assigned to the South Street station where they squeezed in with Engine 4 and Ladder 15, going back into service on February 19.
“In the beginning, we hated them,” joked Lt. Grif, an officer on Engine 4. “Now we tolerate them. Now we enjoy them.”
The Battery Park committee began a letter-writing campaign to new Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.
They continued attending government meetings. One concern was response time in Battery Park, now isolated by the road closings around Ground Zero. Another was the restoration of Ten House, the station that covered south Battery Park.
“We wanted the fire house back in the neighborhood,” Joseph said. “We wanted the companies back together. They needed to be together and deserved to be. They needed some sense of normalcy in their life, just as we residents needed some sense of normalcy in ours.
“And we needed them to be there. No one knows our neighborhood like the Ten House guys.”
“Someone was thinking about us”
Ladder 10 Company was given one of the rehabbed ladder trucks the department keeps in reserve. Most of the crew described it as usable.
“It was a piece of junk,” D’Ancona said.
By February, the first four trucks and engines manufactured by Seagrave had been outfitted with communications equipment and markings to FDNY specifications. Just prior to delivery they were placed on display at a trade show at the Nassau Coliseum for East Coast volunteer fire departments.
John M was there with a few firefighters from Ladder 10. When he saw the Seagrave truck with the striking graphics, he placed a folded-up Ten House T-shirt in the windshield so the number 10 stood out.
Then John M sort of started a rumor.
“Everyone came to me and said, ‘Oh, that’s Ten’s truck’ and I said, ‘Maybe if we get the ball rolling, they’ll actually give it to us even though it’s not supposed to be for us.’”
In April, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commissioner Scoppetta presented Seagrave’s flagship truck to Ladder 10 Company. Engine 10 Company also received a new engine, one of the first four FDNY vehicles to roll out of Clintonville, a high-pressure pumper designed for high-rise work.
Scoppetta promised that Ten House would be restored, and it has since been announced that $1.45 million in federal money will be directed toward the project. When it will happen is unclear. Perhaps next spring. There are problems at the site, including a neighboring high-rise that may have to come down.
The Ladder 10 firefighters are fond of their new truck, although they’ve put a few dings in it already, given their propensity for driving over curbs and forcing their way down narrow streets. For a few days in August, it was missing the front grill.
“A little punch in the nose,” John M said, dismissing it.
To them, it is a tool. They appreciate the new design, which for the first time has two firefighters in back facing forward, allowing them to size up a fire as they approach it. Also, it’s air-conditioned. In early August, temperatures reached 104 degrees in Manhattan.
But after everything the 10 Truck crew went through, it’s the truck’s artwork that does what the workers meant it to do. It lifts spirits.
“It felt good, like maybe they didn’t forget about us after all,” said Ekberg, who repaired the grill himself when a city repair crew took too long to arrive. “Someone was thinking about us. Obviously, Seagrave was. Thank the people of Wisconsin for me”
“It’s just too much sometimes”
Not all is rosy. Some veteran company members left during those weeks on the pile, choosing other assignments. Of the 25 men on Ladder 10’s roster last year, just nine are left. Some, like Capt. Mallery, retired. Others, unsure whether the company would be restored, took advantage of open transfer offers and chose stations closer to their homes.
“These were guys with 15, 18 years of fighting fires, and now they were doing body recovery while everyone else was fighting fires and they were not even telling us we’d get our trucks back,” John M said.
Like many FDNY companies now, Ladder 10 is young, with fewer experienced firefighters and more new recruits than would have been normal before Sept. 11.
Some firefighters are having a hard time emotionally. They’ve been to too many funerals, buried too many “brothers.” Many are sick of reporters and television cameras. They are besieged by tourists, whom they accept and greet graciously.
“The support has been overwhelming,” said Lt. Jerry Curran, now serving a tour of duty on Ladder 10. “But it’s just too much sometimes. You can’t really act yourself when you always have people around.”
As the one-year anniversary approached, it was getting worse.
“Getting close to Sept. 11, the guys are going to be a little more anxious and sleepless,” Curran said.
A year ago, D’Ancona’s 10-year-old daughter spent a night at the station before Sept. 11, and had dinner with the crew. Some of those guys are dead, and she’s having a hard time with that, he said.
Some firefighters are more irritable now, a classic symptom of post-traumatic stress.
D’Ancona said they have heard from firefighters’ wives, statements like, “He’s not the same. He’s bad-tempered.”
Professionally, they face new and greater challenges. Ladder 10 Company is being trained to respond to chemical disasters, like poison gas in a subway, and has been outfitted with fully encapsulated suits.
An independent study of the fire department response on Sept. 11, the McKinsey report, praised the bravery of firefighters but highlighted serious problems with radio communications and poor coordination between fire and police commanders.
The point-to-point radios used by firefighters have a limited range, and many firefighters above the 50th floor of Tower One never heard the emergency order to evacuate. A police helicopter, hovering above the burning upper floors, was in a position to provide valuable information to fire commanders, the McKinsey report states, but the link was never made.
Curran said they are waiting for the city to respond to these issues.
“We are truly a community now”
But the worst is over. There is healing. On today’s anniversary of the attack, the residents of Battery Park will hold a candlelight vigil. In two weeks, they will throw a massive block party and the firefighters of Ten House will be honored guests.
Firefighters like parties. That hasn’t changed.
“The great thing about it is we are truly a community now,” said Joseph. “We have embraced our firefighters and they have embraced us. After this anniversary, I think there will be a lot of natural healing.”
They know about the Clintonville High School students, joined by the workers of Seagrave, who are running a statewide campaign, “From Wisconsin to New York,” to purchase a $450,000 fire engine for New York, an engine Seagrave will make later this year.
“From one New Yorker, thank you so much,” Joseph said. “New York would not have gotten back if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers.”
“Thank you Seagrave workers”
The on-duty crew of Ladder 10 was being photographed, a newspaper portrait. D’Ancona held things up for a few minutes, rummaged around the station. He found a large piece of white paper. He wrote a message on it. He wanted it in the picture.
“Thank you Seagrave workers from the members of Ladder 10 — FDNY.”
Ed Culhane has been a reporter at The Post-Crescent since 1984 and an outdoor columnist since 1991. He covers the environment, outdoors and general assignments and has spent much of his newspaper career on the police and fire beats.