HOUSE OF HEROES:
Firefighters Share Story Of 9/11
Reprinted from The New York Post. Some last names have been deleted from this reprint. Originally Published Sep. 10, 2006 (Copyright 2006, The New York Post. All Rights Reserved)
By Kevin Kernan, New York Post
TEN House is still standing.
Mets pitchers Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel came down for lunch Friday, to hang with the guys, sign baseballs and see a New York City firehouse that is considered one of the proudest and most "together" firehouses in the city.
"The man who instills that pride in all of us is John M," explains firefighter Mark Medina, who was a city policeman before joining the fire department. "We are a family." A family that was nearly destroyed on 9/11. Engine 10 and Ladder 10 sits directly across from where the South Tower of the World Trade Center stood. John, 40, is one of 12 firefighters who remain at Ten House from 9/11.
His story and the rebirth of Ten House is remarkable.
"It's uplifting to be with these guys," Glavine says. "It couldn't get much tougher than being right here, losing the men they lost, losing the firehouse. This is all a testament to their courage." Ten House lost five men that day - Lt. Gregg Atlas, Jeffrey Olsen and Paul Pansini of Engine 10, and Lt. Stephen Harrell and Sean Tallon of Ladder 10.
John wonders why he survived. He believes it was to tell the Ten House story and help emotionally rebuild the firehouse, which reopened Nov. 5, 2003, after suffering severe damage.
"John gets things done," Medina, 33, says. "He's got so much pride in the [firehouse], it's unbelievable."
At this house, firefighters have to act as tourist guides because so many people stop by with questions.
"Talking has been like therapy to me," John says. "I was working with the guys who were lost that day. I knew them, I knew their personalities. I'm not doing anything special, I just tell the people what happened." John was in the kitchen having breakfast when the first plane hit.
"We ran out there. Sean Tallon was only 11 months on the job, a great kid, a real gogetter and I said, 'Sean stay close to me.
We're going to see a lot of bad stuff today,' " John says.
"As soon as we got out on the apron, there were already bodies on the street." Body parts, unrecognizable.
"It was horrific," John says. "We were the first responders, pulling in right in front of the North Tower, a gentleman came out of the lobby, engulfed in flames." John, the driver, slammed on the breaks, grabbed a blanket and tackled the man as another firefighter put water on the victim. The victim was put in the first ambulance on the scene.
"By the time I was done with this gentleman, my team had already started making their way into the building," John says.
After entering the lobby, his officer, Lt. Harrell, calmly ordered John to go into the courtyard to check on the extent of the fire.
"The entire North Tower was on fire from what looked like the 80th floor," John recalls. "You have to understand, we loved the towers, these were our babies." John rushed back into the lobby and started ordering people out.
"Then I hear from 2 World Trade Center, 'Go back to your desks, the fire department is on the scene,' so I run over to the revolving door and tell everybody to get out of these buildings," John recalls. "I don't know what's happening, but I know it's bad." People were jumping to their deaths.
"They were not jumping one or two at a time, but 20 or 30 at a time," John says.
"You could hear the loud explosions and it was people hitting the veranda right above our heads." John and several policemen devised a plan to send people out through the subway so they could come out on Chambers Street and avoid being hit by falling victims and debris. He estimates four thousand people escaped via that route.
"The granite marble floor was covered in broken glass, people were coming down and women who had taken off their high-heel shoes to be able to walk down the stairs, their feet were cut and they were bleeding. Mixed with the water, blood was everywhere," John says. "It looked like a slaughterhouse." John noticed a blind man with a Seeing Eye dog wandering about. He asked two "Wall Street guys" to carry the man out.
"They grabbed him under the arm and grabbed the dog and I watched them carry that man all the way to the subway, they never once let go or veered off," he says.
"People were helping one another better than I've ever seen people in New York helping one another.
"It was amazing how calm these people were, seeing what they were seeing." It got much worse, of course, the towers fell, first the South Tower. The sound was something John will never forget.
"I thought it was a nuclear explosion," he says. "Believe me, I was not brave; I was as afraid as you could possibly be. I laid down right where the revolving door was and the wind from the building coming down throws me in the air. I'm in complete darkness and land on the floor in a tight ball and I'm waiting to get hit by the beam that's going to kill me." John miraculously escaped the darkness through an opening near an escalator with Lt. Girard Owens of Engine Company 5 and five other people. As John was recovering outside, the other tower came down.
John's brother, a firefighter in Brooklyn, also was at the site and survived.
"When I saw him my heart leapt out of my chest," John says.
That day, 343 firefighters were killed.
"I'm not going to leave this house," John says. "The [terrorists] wanted to break our spirit, that's not going to happen. I'll be here to tell the stories. I'll watch the new buildings get built, I'll take in the new [firefighters]. If the guys need me, I'll be there for them." And when John sees the house together at a social function like the upcoming firefighters softball championships, "I feel proud," he says.
He should. Ten House is still standing.
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