Engine 1 was one of the 18 engine companies severely damaged or destroyed after the collapse.
Photo credit: Photo courtesy Firehouse magazine
The book, "WTC: In Their Own Words," from the editors of Firehouse magazine features interviews with firefighters on the scene at Ground Zero.
Photo credit: Photo courtesy Firehouse magazine
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from, "WTC: In Their Own Words," a book from the editors of Firehouse magazine.
Firefighter Joe Falco
Garment District, Manhattan, now retired
I received a call to come in and work overtime on Monday morning. When I arrived I was told they found several firefighters to work and I wasn’t working the day tour. They said I could work driving the engine Monday night. I hung around and worked Monday night. I had been out for a while and my first tour back was September 6. I was supposed to get early relief Tuesday morning. I was the only one going off duty.
At about 8:30 A.M. we had an EMS run to Penn Station a block away. I heard Battalion 1 radio in that he had a plane into the Trade Center. I drove around the block back to the firehouse. Within seconds of me backing into the firehouse, the tones went off for a run for the engine. I said I’m supposed to go home. The incoming chauffeur was there. I asked him do you want to drive? He said you take it.
I worked my way to the West Side Highway. We parked on the south side of the North Pedestrian Bridge. The guys got off the rig. I was getting dressed. The mask for the chauffeur was out of service. I met the officer inside. He said no mask, go outside and get water. It was hard to leave the building. People were jumping. I saw the chauffeur of Engine 65. I helped him hook up. An engine pulled up and parked right in front of the North Tower. As soon as the engine pulled up, someone jumped from above and landed on the roof of the engine. The rig took off.
I helped put the suction hose on a hydrant at Liberty and West Street. There was a walkway to where the standpipe connection was located. It offered a little bit of protection. We were next to the parking lot at the southeast corner of the complex. A couple of cars were on fire. There was plane debris everywhere. We hooked up to another hydrant and tried to put out a van that was close to the apparatus.
Stuff was falling off the building. People were trying to get out of the hotel. Cops were yelling that there were about 20 people in wheelchairs and they needed stretchers. EMS directed the civilians.
Firefighter Kevin Shea was an extra man on Ladder 35, and had gotten separated from his unit. He asked if we needed help with the car fires. He was on the nozzle with me backing him up. The chauffeur of Engine 65 was looking out. Kevin was trying to put out the car fires when I yelled run. The South Tower was collapsing.
I ran west. This wind comes and knocks my helmet off. My hands go out in front of me like I’m Superman. I’m flying through the air. I said I’m not dying like this. I heard my daughter’s name. I go head over heels rolling into the center divider of the West Side Highway. I go up and over the divider completely into the southbound traffic lanes. I wake up. Everything is black. There is no light, no sound. There is debris everywhere except where I landed. They say you see light when you die. I said, I’m in trouble, because there is no light. I was getting pounded on my back, like you were getting punched by small pebbles that were landing on me. I had about 30 lumps on the top of my head.
I thought I had heard Firefighter Muldowney while I was lying on the ground. “Hey Boy” is what we used to say to each other over the handie-talkie. He was working and was killed. The dust started to clear. I thought I was buried. I reached around me and found I wasn’t buried. Lights from an ambulance were visible in the distance. I thought a piece of the building came down, not the entire building.
I was still sitting near the debris when a firefighter yelled out, anybody here. I yelled back. He asked if I was OK. They came over to see if I was OK. I heard a firefighter yell out that he was trapped in front of an ambulance about 20 feet from me. My leg was hurting me so I couldn’t go. The other firefighters that had left me came back. The firefighter was only wearing a turnout coat. He was bleeding from his head. The debris that was blocking the front of the ambulance was moved and the bleeding firefighter walked away.
Two firefighters assigned to Ladder 24 in my firehouse had just escaped the partial collapse of the hotel when the South Tower collapsed. They each grabbed one of my arms. There was so much debris, it hurt more as they pulled me. We made it in front of the North Tower when the North Tower collapsed. I went from not being able to walk to sprinting towards the Hudson River.
The wind and the dust started again. I put my head inside my coat and said, whatever happens. I walked in a straight line down some stairs to the bulkhead. I walked north until I was out of the dust cloud. I saw one of the firefighters, Grillo, who I had been with. I said where is Tyrone? I was going to go back into the dust until I saw a shadow and it was Tyrone. Grillo had injured his arm and his nose was bleeding. I sat on a park bench. I was in so much pain.
A sightseeing boat pulled into the bulkhead. I get on the boat. I couldn’t walk down the stairs; I had to slide a ladder. They took me to Jersey City with several firefighters. They put me on a bench. There was no one around, so a lady called my wife.
Finally they took me to the Jersey City Medical Center. They triaged everybody in the lobby. Hundreds of people were in the lobby. There was a lot of damage to my legs. They stitched me up. They put the cops, firefighters and EMS in one room. I was fully covered in dust.
I said I wished I could talk with Father Mike, (Mychal Judge, fire department chaplain) I didn’t know what happened to him. A lieutenant said don’t you know, Father Mike got killed. I was so close to him, it was heartbreaking to hear. (Father Judge worked in the church across the street from Engine 1 and Ladder 24. He parked his fire department vehicle inside the firehouse and he ate every meal with the firefighters). It took the wind right out of my sails to hear that. He was such a nice man. He made everybody feel that you were important to him.
They were sending guys two at a time to take a shower. I had scrubs on and was on crutches. Do you want to take a shower? They kept asking me over and over. I said let someone else go. I was the last one to take a shower. I saw what I looked like in the mirror. I was the dirtiest one there. I was transported back to New York. Two friends drove in to take me home. That was my last day at work. I suffered injuries to my left side, left knee, broken knee cap, torn ACL, torn PCL, broken tibia, joint and bone crushed, left eye injury and left shoulder replacement. I had a right torn ACL and a bone/knee crushed.