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TitleLive to Tell
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Page 1

A supplement by the edi tors of

JOURNAL OF EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES M A G A Z I N E
&

9-11 Responders Show Their True Valor

Page 50

50

FDNY
Ladder 7

FDNY
Ladder 8

George
Cain
35
Firefighter

Robert
Foti
42
Firefighter

Charles
Mendez
38
Firefighter

Richard
Muldowney Jr.
40
Firefighter

Vincent
Princiotta
39
Firefighter

Vernon
Richard
53
Captain

Vincent
Halloran
43
Lieutenant

My partner [EMT Yamel Merino] was still in the staging area get-
ting instructions.

I heard what sounded like thunder and, when I looked up, I
heard the rumbling sound. But, what a lot of people didn’t see
because they weren’t that close, [was that] the whole top of
Tower 2 exploded. Completely exploded.

When I started running, I didn’t know it was coming down. I
ran because it exploded, and I thought I was gonna get crushed
by debris falling. I took off down West Street toward Vesey.

I remember jumping across the divider on West Street. The
force of the building coming down knocked me down three
times.The debris was so hot. I was afraid of getting burned.Each
time I got back up and continued running—bam!, I'd be on the
street again. By the time it had stopped, both of my hands were
swollen from me hitting the street hard. I kept wandering two
blocks down West Street and [followed] some people onto a
[New York Transit] bus that was there.

As the bus started rolling, the [North Tower] came down.The
bus took us as far as he could toward Battery Park, and then the
bus stalled on us because of too much of that soot stuff going into
the system.There was an EMT on the bus from AMR who lost her
partner. She said,“Listen, I’m gonna try to get you some help.” By
then I was throwing up, could hardly breathe and had gashes on
my hands. She put my arms around her shoulders and got the
back of my pants and literally dragged me a block.She said,“Listen,
if we get out of this,we’re gonna be like best of friends.”

A Regional ambulance went by us. She chased that ambulance
about a block and started banging on the side of it to [make it]
stop.They had a DOA in the back.They stopped and rushed me to
St.Vincent’s Hospital.St.Vincent’s was great.They had triage set up
right there on the street. Because my breathing so bad, they
jumped on me right away.They ran lines, had oxygen on me and
gave me medications. Later that evening, my breathing finally got
better.

Editor’s note: EMT Yamel Merino died while working at the Trade
Center on Sept. 11.

Al Kim, vice-president of New York City operations,
MetroCare Ambulance
Responding ambulances set up on West Street.We were set up
on the furthest southbound lanes near 2 World Trade, in 90°
angles.An FDNY EMS officer directed us to coordinate our crew
with forward triage in the Marriott Hotel.

Ambulance 15 George, the unit [MetroCare EMT] Yamel
[Merino] was on, as well as three of our other 9-1-1 units, were
part of the responding units there.A slew of FDNY units and hos-
pital units that provide 9-1-1 response also converged on the
same location.

We set the units up in a row. There were units that were 9-1-1
assigned to this area anyway.Obviously,they were the first ones in
prior to any kind of official deployment. I found out after the fact
that these units had removed patients at least two,three,four times

prior to the official set-up.They found people coming out, started
loading up,going to the hospital and returning.

I was under the pedestrian South Bridge, maybe 40 feet from
the South Tower.The crews were lined up outside their ambu-
lances.There was a fire chief in the lobby of the South Tower.The
planes had hit both towers,and firefighters were already ascend-
ing the towers. The goal was that they would send patients
down. Then we would get waved from the lobby. There was
debris coming down, but nothing that bad at that point.

I was to wave EMS crews in, crew-by-crew.They would get a
patient with their stretcher and remove them to their vehicle.
Then the next crew would go in.That was the premise of the set-
up. Obviously, we were way too close.

Yamel’s was one of the first units to park in the area. They
were one of the first units waved over to head in the direction
of the South Tower. Soon after they left our area,Tower 2 came
down and the area became buried along with some of the buses.
Yamel’s partner, Cosmo Jackson, ran by me.Yamel was between
me and the tower. She was buried under falling debris.

I didn’t run anywhere. I had no time. When I recovered, I
thought I was in a cave. Steve Zakheim, our chief operating offi-
cer, was to my right. We were screaming for each other. Brian
Washburn, operations director for New York Presbyterian
Hospital,was to the left of me.He had just pulled up to look after
his 9-1-1 units as well.

I immediately went looking for Yamel and Cosmo. But, the
place was on fire.We had to get away from it. I later returned to
search for Yamel,but couldn’t find her.After I found [my remain-
ing personnel], I turned the crews affected by the collapse into
patients and sent them away.

Walter Kowalczyk, division chief,
FDNY EMS
I was working in my office in Brooklyn that
morning.I monitor the fire department radio in
addition to the EMS frequencies.The first sign
that I became aware of [that something was
wrong] was when the radio announced the fire
department had transmitted a second alarm for
the World Trade Center.This was not unusual,

but when I switched from the Brooklyn to the Manhattan fre-
quency, it became clear a plane had gone into [1 World Trade].

At 9:01 I was called by Citywide to respond.As I was leaving,a
TV was on in one of the offices and [the crash] was already on
CNN. Clearly the incident had been confirmed.The route I took
from my office to the site put me on the Gowanus Expressway.

As I approached the Gowanus [an elevated part of the high-
way that leads to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel],I saw clearly what
was going on.[FDNY] EMT Michael Ober was with me,and I told
him,“This could be terrorism,and we need to be cautious about
protecting ourselves and keeping our eyes open.”

Initially when I left the office, I thought it was an accident.

KOWALCZYK

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51

FDNY
Ladder 9

FDNY
Ladder 10

Jeffrey
Walz
37
Firefighter

John
Tierney
27
Firefighter

Gerald
Baptiste
35
Firefighter

Sean
Tallon
26
Firefighter

When I got closer and saw the enormity of the event, I was con-
cerned that this was something else. I’m not sure if the second
plane had hit prior to my arrival at 9:23, but the upper floors of
the Trade Center were well engulfed.From a distance,we could-
n’t discern the North Tower from the South Tower. I believe the
second plane hit while we were on the Gowanus.

I came through the Battery Tunnel,and the police department
already had emergency routes in effect. So inbound traffic into
the Trade Center was only emergency [vehicles]. Coming
through the tunnel were other ambulances, fire trucks,police.As
we pulled onto West Street from the Battery Tunnel, we had to
use caution and slow our response, given the debris already
there from the building, as well as body parts.

I positioned my vehicle on Liberty Street between West and
the Hudson River by the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel. I
never saw my vehicle upright again.

The radio frequency was inundated with transmissions and
dispatch information.From a command-and-control perspective,
the first thing we needed to do was identify where the
Command Post was.As I walked up West Street, other fire offi-
cials indicated to me that the Command Post was in 1 World
Trade. Traditionally, from a firefighting EMS operation, we’re a
joint Command Post:The medical branch is set up in conjunction
with the fire command and reports to the incident commander.

As we entered [1 World Trade],we had to be cautious.Although
we had helmets and response coats on,there was a lot [of debris]
coming down.We were physically walking through body parts,
torsos.You had to get focused on command and control, but you
had this human element affecting your decision-making.

At that point,Chief [Jerry] Gombo was on scene.As I received
information from him, he said,“We need to get out of the con-
course level.They reported another plane coming in.” Now, that
goes back to me being unsure [at this time] if the second plane
had hit or, if given the magnitude of the incident, there was a
report of a third plane.

The thing that initially surprised me—and I’ve managed a mul-
titude of EMS operations with high casualties—was you usually get
a grip on yourself and know what you have to do.[But] my mouth
went dry to the point where I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t physically
get a Lifesaver or piece of gum to try to do the job I needed to do.

With the order to exit the concourse level, we walked across
West Street to the front of 2 World Financial Center.We relocat-
ed the EMS Command Post to a driveway there with the fire
Command Post.Alongside us was Chief [Peter] Ganci, the chief
of the fire department.

Chief Gombo and I started to establish command and control.
Chief Gombo, the EMS command officer, was to establish and
coordinate strategy with incident command. I was the opera-
tions officer in charge of implementing the strategy. Chief offi-
cers had responded in, and we started to give out assignments
that were broad in nature.

At that point,the street extensions were Vesey on the north and

Liberty on the south.There was a multi-prong approach,trying to
get face-to-face directions, having chief officers indicating to our
Citywide dispatcher where our Command Post was,utilizing cell
phones. I remember Lt. [Ross] Terranova being on a cell phone
with Citywide giving directions.

Just as we were—I’m not even going to use the word “stabi-
lized”—it started.A noise I can never forget. It was loud, but yet
it was soft:The collapse of [2 World] Trade.We didn’t know what
was happening.We were setting up the Command Post in the
middle of the driveway as it started.We saw a plume of smoke
erupting, and we ran. Several members, including myself and
Chief Gombo, escaped west into the driveway [of 2 World
Financial], which turned into an underground garage.

There was a point that was beyond our control:the bodies com-
ing off the Trade Center. I’m not talking about one or two.There
had to be half a dozen or more.And there was nothing we could
do.That’s another sound that I’ll never forget.The only sound I can
compare it to is the sound of plywood hitting the floor.That noise.
Also, in front of 1 World Trade there is a [glass]-enclosed driveway,
and the bodies were coming through that glass. Some [bodies]
landed on it,some went through it.These bodies were not on fire.
I’m not sure if they were jumping, if—in the smoke environ-
ment—they saw a light and they thought it was an exit, or if the
sheer explosion blew out the windows and the suction drew
them out.You just tried not to look.When you tried to focus on
what you had to do,the sounds associated with these people mak-
ing contact with the ground interrupted that sense of thinking.

So we escaped into the garage area.That was scary because I
couldn’t find my aide. I knew that Chief Ganci and Commissioner
[William] Feehan were next to me at the Command Post. Ganci
and Feehan were that close.I went into the garage.Obviously,they
went toward the Trade Center.People ran in different directions. I
didn’t know where they were as the mushroom cloud developed.

As I’m running,the life questions are coming to me.I’m recent-
ly widowed with two children.So right away,I’m wondering,“Will
I ever again see my eight-year-old and my 13-year-old who depend
on me for parenting?”In other words,escaping into the garage,I’m
saying,“Fool,why am I doing this?”Because, typically in a building
collapse,you have a building that’s going to arc in one direction or
another. My thinking and my training says I’m basically running
into a dead end.What’s going to prevent this debris from follow-
ing the natural course of the driveway into the garage?

For a time, that’s what we thought was happening. In a sense,
the cloud came down—the dust and debris.We were trapped in
that garage area, but we weren’t sure what we were trapped by.
The garage area filled with smoke, and we didn’t know how to
get out. Probably two dozen people were in there—a cross-sec-
tion of city government from firefighters to police officers to
Commissioner [Thomas] Fitzpatrick.

It was eerie to hear one of the fire officers screaming for his
men,“16 where are you? 16 where are you?”This is a man who’s
trained to get us out and he can’t even find his people to aid us.

Page 99

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