rather than write on this occasion, I share the words of a good friend;
9-1-1. It used to be an emergency number. Now it’s a day in America that identifies and asks a retrospective of where you were at the time. For most people it’s a list of tragic events against our country. As a fire fighter it’s the beginning of a professional debut of commitment to our "new" servitude.
FDNY lost 343 on that dreadful day. I lost four firefighter friends that I’m linked with by our profession and our desire to teach our experience and knowledge to other firefighters.
FDNY. The name says it all. They are a “Fire Department” in New York. They have their priority stated. Fire Department first, New York second. NYPD, they are a city with a Police Department in it. Maybe all firefighters should change their label and have the similarity as FDNY.
FDNY, they belong to the fire service, to the preservation of life and property. All firefighters are committed to life and property, albeit for a price. A price paid by 343 brave men on that day, and challenged in every city, every day in America.
I remember on the 5th anniversary of 9-11 that our firefighters put out 343 American flags with each firefighters picture on a staff, on the grass in front of the Vallejo Ferry docks. Many stopped to observe and still “those” people thought we were grandstanding. Grandstanding, sad state of affairs.
I don’t remember, I really don’t remember. I just can’t recall what my shift entailed before I got the “call”. I was on duty at station 21 in Vallejo. I had been a firefighter since 1981 for Vallejo. I cannot remember the shift. I know I reported for duty on the 10th, checked out my Ladder truck in the morning, went to training, ate lunch and dinner, within the shift of emergency calls and services.
But I can’t picture or recall the incidental activities of the day. Emergency calls through the night left me with little energy. I finally laid my head down to rest.
At 06:15 I received a phone call on my cell phone from a fellow firefighter from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. They told me a plane just hit the World Trade Center and that I should get up and turn the TV on. I left the dorm and told the other firefighters what had just happened.
Why would my friend call me to tell me that you ask? I was a Fire Service Instructor as was my friend that called me. I literally have friends all over the country that I taught with. A bunch of them were FDNY members. I went into the day room and turned the TV on. OMG. Unbelievable.
I asked my fellow Vallejo Fire Service Instructor Greg Falkenthal which one of our FDNY instructors were on duty and what shift was coming on duty. He said he didn’t know. We called several friends and to no avail. Nobody was answering their phones, and rightly so. Later, any word we would get was sketchy, meaning it came from a friend of a friend of a friend.
We pooled our information we did get. We tried to figure out which firefighters were in what part of the city. Who would be first in and who would be coming in for the greater alarm? What ladder companies, what engine companies, what rescue companies would be called out?
We found that the street box alarm was identified as 8087,Two World Trade Center. We knew the boys were going to be busy and this was the “job” of all jobs. A fire is called a job in the field. Meaning that it is a working structure fire and that all hands would be needed to respond and mitigate an emergency, wherever the job was in the country. The World Trade Center’s Towers would prove to be “the”emergency of our time. Our country took the hit, not just New Yorkers.
We were glued to the television. All the firefighters in the station were now downstairs with us. We were awestruck. We could not believe it. Then in horror we watched the second plane hit the Towers. As the coverage continued it was somewhat rewarding that we, as firefighters, were literally rallying with the responding firefighters. Yeah, you go boys, get’em, save’em, save ‘em all.
The average person would look to see what was going on by visually seeing the coverage. Firefighters view it different than most people. We looked for numbers of engines and ladder companies. Once we caught a glimpse of the units we could figure out what stations the firefighters came from. Our attempt at finding out who was where.
I remember the helicopter video coverage and the reporter giving us a glimpse of his observations. Then in a huge puff of smoke… the first collapse at Two World Trade Center. The implosion and collapse sent him into a cry of bewilderment. He said as I recall… “it’s gone, it’s gone. The Tower is gone”.
After a few minutes as I saw the repeated video, I thought that what I saw was crazy, but then I also thought “what a engineering marvel that they could design a building that, based on its proximity to other buildings in that dense of an area, could collapse straight down. Little did I know the reality of the pancake collapse would not be know until years later.
We started to get other accounts of planes crashing and hijackings. Pennsylvania, then the Pentagon. We first heard the news service refer to us as being under attack. My friend called me back and asked if I had heard anything and that Miami Dade was on alert and their fire crew and unit was headed to a nuclear facility to provide protection.
We thought that the collapse certainly killed firefighters and civilians. But we were not expecting the next thing to happen. Less than 30 minutes later, the second tower collapsed. How many lives? Which of those lives were firefighters? We were speechless.
As hours and hours went by, our grief was becoming a reality for the family we lost. Our brothers in New York could not survive such devastation. Our speculations were confirmed as our other comrades called us to confirm the possibilities and probabilities of our personal friends that lost their lives.
When the first plane hit the first tower, it was at change of shift. Many were exchanging the previous shifts pertinent information, were waiting for the morning traffic to clear before going off duty or just enjoying a cup of coffee before they left for home. Any firefighter worth their salt would have wanted to stay to see if they could get to the “job”.
FDNY has a roster board in each fire station that puts a name and an assignment of the shift in full view for the firefighters.
All assigned personnel know what rig or unit they are assigned to for the day. They use a chalkboard, and the board usually dated back to the date the station opened. (to this date all the chalkboards of 911 still hold the original crew assignments and new chalkboards replaced the dated ones. It was unknown for days and days which personnel were on duty or off duty or who jumped on a truck to go to the job or who were standing by for a firefighter coming from another section of the city.
Beyond administrative knowledge within the fire department, the chalkboard represented who was actually working. Meaning a firefighter could have come in early for a firefighter that had a doctor’s appointment, and his name may not have been known at city hall but it was known in the firehouse. Or at least we thought.
As an example, Fire Company 288 had 19 firefighters jump on their rigs. Not one survived.
Search and rescue efforts were being conducted from all departments in the area. Within hours of the collapses, firefighters from 200-300 miles away were on their way in their own vehicles, knowing that they were going to a dig, for survivors. They would get there in plenty of time to help. Local departments sent their firefighters and units, to cover the City’s emergency services as needed.
In the United States, we average 100 firefighter fatalities per year. On September 11, 2001 between 09:59 and 10:28, not even 30 minutes, we lost 343. Three and a half years of firefighter deaths at one time, at one place.
Never before in our service and country had that happened. Many of our fellow instructors would survive. It wouldn’t be long beforewe would find out which of our friends were missing. Specifically, Andy Fredericks, Chris Blackwell, Billy McGinn, and Dana Hannon.
We were all instructors for Fire Engineering, a trade publication that each year put on a national Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, called FDIC. We were all tied together by that Instructor’s conference. We all taught “HOT” training.
HOT is an acronym for Hands On Training. Training that takes a firefighter and puts them in a situation of practical application by personally giving them the experience we were teaching. We all taught many subjects that firefighters would sign up and travel for just to be taught by us. The best training in the world. If you or your department wanted or needed specialized training, we could do it. Building construction, auto extrication, disaster preparedness.
For me, as an Aerial Truck Operator, I specialized in Ventilation for fire conditions, forcible entry (getting in the structure without a key) or power tools and accessories and how to make them work for each fire department.
These 4 brave firefighters came to Sacramento for FDIC West Coast. To bring it even closer to Solano County, Dana’s crew of instructors taught their portion of “live fire training” in Dixon while the rest of us were at different areas in Sac.
Three days after the attacks, I was scheduled to go on vacation in Miami. Needless to say, I was held up until the air space was opened. A week later, I made it to Florida.
Greg called me. I hated getting calls from Greg. Then the real call came. They were all presumed dead. Lt. Billy McGinn* was memorialized on October 5, 2001. Lt. Andrew Fredericks* was memorialized on October 8, 2001. Firefighter Chris Blackwell’s service would be October 20, 2001. Dana was still missing.
*Billy and Andy were found in a stairwell of one of the towers.
In a book titled “Last Man Out” Captain John Jonas remembers seeing them before the collapse in the stairwell that he miraculously survived in.
Greg said Billy’s service was the day he called me on vacation. Andy’s service would be in 3 days. I was in Florida. I made the arrangements to go to NY. Greg and I discussed our trips. He would fly from California and I from Miami. Our New Jersey brothers would pick us up at the airport. . Greg had to go to my house to get my Class A uniform. He brought it to NY for me. This was not going to be a fun trip.
Going to a fire service funeral is unique. As a paramilitary based organization, fallen firefighter services were the most respected and somber dedications you could attend. Somberness through the drums and bagpipes of a traditional service, gave you a total body quiver.
At first, there was “a” funeral, then as more and more firefighters were recovered and confirmed deceased, the funerals increased. Two, three then four services in the morning and six or seven or eight in the afternoon. It was an evolution of respect for fallen firefighters. For the families, just finding a church to have a service in was quite an event.
To go from one funeral to pay respects, then to the next, then the next was difficult. Rows and rows of Class A dressed firefighters from all over the country in attendance. Saluting the hearses or fire trucks carrying the bodies as they arrived.
“Amazing Grace” was playing out of the bagpipes. Just the logistics of the services was amazing. And all the while that these funerals were going on, firefighters were working on “The Pile” at One World Trade Center, recovering other firefighters and victims.
Fire Fighter Andy Fredericks was a water flow genius. His classes taught about effective fire hoses and water streams in all structure fires. If you wanted to get a viable fire stream to the moon, Andy could teach you how to figure gallons per minute, friction loss and how much hose in between each fire truck would need to relay pump water to the moon.
We went to Andy’s requiem viewing the night before his service. Never have I hugged and cried with so many firefighters. I was happy to see some of my friends and saddened to hear of those still listed as missing. Andy’s closed casket was draped in an American flag with his fire gear adjacent to his casket guards. At each end of the casket were two honor guards.
The first ones I saw were from Ohio and Florida respectively. I knew their faces and couldn’t help but notice the tear streams streaks on their faces. We couldn’t embrace the honor guards but eye contact and a compassionate nod made the acknowledgement for us. Each firefighter that “protected” the casket was relieved at each half hour. Not because they were tired but because emotionally they couldn’t keep up the demeanor.
As FDIC instructors, we had several Emergency vehicles to travel in. They were arranged by firefighters from New Jersey. We had surviving FDNY fire instructors escorting us. They were a part of our HOT crew. The next day, we lined up in front of the church amid the firefighters, and unusual to see, civilian spectators crying as the hearse rolled up and the bagpipes and drums played.
We sat in the 5th pew of a Catholic church. Just the ‘sitting’ took 1 hour. Fire fighters were lined up in the isles, the balcony, anywhere you could fit a body. We exceeded the occupancy load by a group, but no one was going to enforce it.
As I looked back over my shoulder, I saw rows and rows of firefighters. Up front, distinguished members of his company, or should I say his fire house that he worked with since all of his crew that day died.
Andy’s wife, his son and daughter were on the first row.
As I flashed back, all the faces brought me a sense of pride and affirmation of Andy’s impact on us all. I mean, when the HOT training was over and I could attend classes I remember taking Andy’s class. I’m sure if you asked him, Andy could figure out how much beer is consumed after a firefighter convention. He was that good.
It was a traditional Catholic service, with the added intensity of the catastrophic event. Jerry Tracy placed a brass fire nozzle on his casket at the church. After the service, we lined up outside of the church. After Andy’s body was placed in the hearse, we traveled to the cemetery. It was a sunny but cold day, literally.
The night of Andy’s service, we were invited to Wyckoff Fire Department across the Hudson River in New Jersey. It was two-fold. The volunteers of the station provided our food and beverages.
It was where many FDNY members got their fire department starts. Dana Hannon was one, as was a surviving FDNY fire fighter named Mike Ciampo. And it was for us to decompress and to get the latest information. Ciampo and other FDNY in attendance told of their experiences working on the pile. Also, in attendance were Dana Hannon’s father, a retired FDNY Fire Officer, and Dana’s fiancé, Allison Dansen.
To have his dad and Allison there was very hard, because Dana was still missing. Dana was memorialized that December, but his family didn’t bury him until years later. I was notified of Dana’s discovery on St. Patrick’s Day 2002. They recovered his helmet, his shield and one boot. His boot and face piece bracket had tissue which was DNA tested to affirm it was him. His family waited until all the remains were found so they only had to have one funeral.
Some families were not that fortunate and had to “add” to buried members. Allison, to this day, has not dated anyone. Dana was the love of her life. She has since graduated from Nursing school and works at a local hospital.
The next day while I was waiting at the airport, I pondered so many things about the events I witnessed and participated in. Tears welled up several times. Decided it was best that I put on my sunglasses. I wore a golf shirt that had an embroidered American flag with September 11, 2001 under it and the words “Never Forget”.
As I boarded the plane, the flight attendant stopped me and asked me how I was doing. She caught me off guard. The ticket staff must have told her I was on the flight. I was upgraded to first class. As the plane prepared to depart, I was staring out the window. Tears were rolling down my face when she brought me a drink and a Kleenex.
She told me she kept the second seat empty so I wouldn’t have anybody sitting next to me, and if I needed anything to let her know. It was a very long flight emotionally and I couldn’t imagine going to the next memorial.
I returned to New York and ground zero last year. I also went to visit Wyckoff Fire Department. To this day, Dana’s volunteer fire department helmet and bunker gear are still hanging on the turnout rack. A memorial statue was erected in front of the station.
I am proud of my career and the lives that I have touched, and those that have touched me. To Andy, Chris, Billy and Dana, I will never forget.
I close using a quote. “I have no ambition in life but one, and that is to be a fireman” Chief Edward Croker, FDNY. Andy, Chris, Billy and Dana, I am proud to have filled the same ambition as you have.
May God Bless your souls and those of your families.
Gilbert C. Baiz
Retired Fire Engineer
Fire Department Vallejo