Tuesday, July 17, 2018

PART 5: ORAL HISTORIES NYFD FROM SEPTEMBER 11TH,2001

File No. 9110083 
WORLD TRADE CENTER
TASK FORCE INTERVIEW
EMT THOMAS J. BENDICK
Interview Date: October 15, 2001
Transcribed by Elisabeth F. Nason 
Image result for IMAGES OF 911 FIREFIGHTERS

MR. ECCLESTON: Today's date is October 15, 2001. The time is 745 hours. This is Christopher Eccleston of the New York City Fire Department. I'm conducting an interview with the following individual.

Q. Please state your name, rank, title and assigned command of the Fire Department of the City of New York regarding the events of September 11, 2001.

A. Thomas J. Bendick. Emergency medical technician, assigned to Division 1.

Q. Also present? 

A. Christine Bastedenbeck of the New York City Fire Department.

Q. Thomas, can you tell us about the events of September 11, 2001.

A. Approximately I guess sometime around 9:45 or earlier, I arrived at work. I met up with one of the guys from the Division, Duane Walker, and myself and him responded to the World Trade Center incident, and parked our vehicle, which was an empty ambulance full of supplies, someplace approximately Fulton and Trinity, I guess near St. Paul's cemetery, where Lieutenant Melarango was on scene triaging patients. Exited the vehicle. We left our vehicle at that location.

Q. Can you mark on the map with a number 1 where you parked your vehicle?

A. Right about there, I guess.

Q. Also, would you happen to know what vehicle number it was?

A. I honestly do not. 300 series, one of the newer ambulances. I wasn't driving. I was the passenger. That vehicle was parked there and left there with supplies in the back. It wasn't being used for transporting patients. It was full of backboards. As I exited the vehicle , I spoke to the guys with Duane and said I was going to go to the command post to meet up with the Chiefs, being that I'm a Chief's aide.

Left the vehicle. I guess within a minute on scene, I left that location, took my bag of supplies that I had with me, some extra batteries and supplies, being that I figured we would be there for a long time, proceeded down Vesey Street towards the West Side Highway. Got to 7 World Trade Center. 

I saw another EMS triage location with Captain Nahmod and Chief Peruggia were treating patients and I guess a little bit after I got past that point, there was a loud roar. This is probably I would say about 5 minutes after I got on the scene, maybe a little bit longer.

I figured another plane was coming. I stopped for a second, looked around and I didn't see anything and then I began to run towards the West Side Highway, where I saw MERV 1, figuring to get as far away from buildings, not knowing what was going on. I got to the corner of 140 West, where the New York Telephone Company building was, saw a little -- like a little indent into the building. It was a construction barrier or wall that was built.

I went behind the wall I guess with another Firefighter, Police Captain and a couple of civilians. We put our backs against the wall because of not knowing what the heck was going on. Then in a couple of seconds, the roar stopped and I guess like in a split second it was just pure black. 

After it got dark, one gentleman said is everybody all right. I think everybody that was standing there was like yes, I'm fine. I think the same gentleman who was doing most of the talking, he asked a guy out loud who was talking to himself, he goes do we stay here or do we leave. 

At the same time you hear everybody start coughing and choking on all the dirt and the fumes and the smoke, so immediately you knew there was no chance of staying there, so one guy is like well, we got to get out of here. Like I said, out loud everybody is basically thinking to themselves. One guy says, well, I think there is ambulances and fire trucks behind us going towards the highway. Then he said does anybody have a flashlight?

So I reached down in my belt and I actually had a small flashlight with me. I took my small flashlight out and turned that on and the guy that was talking, grabbed my hand immediately, because I guess he was standing right next to me and then we waved the flashlight around asking if there was anybody else near us. You could hear a couple of voices near us, but most of them said they couldn't see the flashlight, even though they sounded like they were about 2 feet from you.

So eventually, I think about 2 more people we were able to get and we all held hands. Then a couple of other people were able to work their way over and then grabbed on to us. So it was about I guess 5 or 6 of us, we all held hands and we used the one flashlight and we started walking towards the West Side Highway.

Like I said, we had an idea which way to go. You could kind of hear the diesel engine from one of the fire trucks, so like I said, we were hoping that was the West Side Highway. Like I said, the visibility was, I guess with the flashlight, about a foot. Without the flashlight it was zero.

Meanwhile you couldn't breathe, so at that point I was using my turnout coat and my shirt, put that over my face, trying to filter the air out. It wasn't like it was smoke. It was just dirt. It was like breathing dirt. So trying to just keep the dirt out of your mouth so you can get some form of air.

I remember not being able to see. I remember walking, hitting the curb, going by the guy who was in front of me, who was holding my hand with the flashlight. He tripped off the sidewalk and I held him and he said, you know, we said everybody watch out. There is a sidewalk, so I remember stepping off the sidewalk. You couldn't see your feet. You could just feel it. I can remember stepping over several fire hoses. Once again you couldn't see them. You could just feel them.

We found the fire truck we heard. We walked  along the fire truck. We were holding the fire truck, feeling it. Got past the fire truck and there was more like open space, so we just kept walking up in the open space, heading north, trying to -- we couldn't run, you just had to go slow because you couldn't see.

I guess we got about -- I think about Murray Street, I would say. It would have had to been by the time we got to fresh air, because I remember the college. So we got someplace around the college where the fresh air started and I think in the middle of West and Murray, there was a Citywide ambulance parked with its passenger door open. I guess they had been and gone.

So I climbed in that ambulance, climbed in the back of their ambulance because it was a van. You can climb through. I got their saline out of the back, because my eyes and everything, my mouth were full of garbage. So I got out of the ambulance from the side door, and I washed my eyes out, washed my mouth out, trying to get as much of the dirt out of me. The other gentleman with us, once we got to free air, they all scattered and went to wherever they had to go.

After I washed my eyes out, I went back to I guess about the south point of the college on Murray. There I met up with Captain Nahmod, who was at 7 World Trade Center. He got out. He was by himself and 2 FDNY EMS physicians came by. They had some of the dust masks, so one of them gave me a dust mask. I honestly don't know who they were. They were Fire Department members. So I got a dust mask, because it was still kind of dusty where we were standing.
At that point, they were trying to get an idea of what was going on, get a plan together. At that same point, I was looking around and I saw -- numerous civilians were asking are you all right, do you need anything. At that point, some place on the west side, on the West Side Highway, a cop had opened a fire hydrant and he had the hydrant going and everybody was like washing their face off, so then I went over there to wash off. I was letting the water go through my mouth and the cop is saying the water is dirty, what are you doing opening your mouth. I said at this point it doesn't really make a difference clearing what's in my mouth.

So I washed off again, because there was just so much stuff on you. Then I met up with Lieutenant Albuerme from Battalion 8, who now got on. I don't know where he came from, but he ended up on the same point, right around the college. So myself, Joe Cahill, a bunch of us met up, so we all started talking to get an idea together of what we wanted to do. 

Right about that point, we were looking southbound and we were all standing like in a group huddled. We were saying okay, if people come out, you know, I guess we will get them, put them to the side, and sometime around there you saw that the north tower collapsed. That I actually -- the south tower I never saw collapse, didn't know it collapsed. All I could see was a large cloud.

At that point I could actually visually see the top floors of the north tower starting to give way and that began to collapse. At that point we all began to run north.

Q. Where were you at this point?

A. We had to be right at the same area, about West and Murray, because this is the -- where is the College of Manhattan College?

Q. This is it, I believe. That's not it. It's further up.

A. So we were further up at that point.

Q. It's right past Chambers, so you must have been like right around here. 

A. Okay. So we had to be around Chambers, because we were at the south side of Manhattan Community College when the second building collapsed. So we actually may have walked even further then, because I remember we got to about Manhattan Community College. The other thing I should note, the pedestrian bridge there, which I think is all in the same area, and that's where we met up with everybody.

At that point, we ran north alongside of the college, because I was on the sidewalk right next to the college, going north and between the college there is a walkway, actually a road that goes under the college, so we ran in underneath there, so the college building is against our backs and then when the debris came, it would go past us, not necessarily striking us. The only thing we worried about was anything coming down on top of us. 

At the same point, a plain clothes, which I assume was a police officer, fired three rounds of his revolver into the door of the Manhattan Community College, the glass doors, which caused a panic. Everybody was screaming shots fired, get down. [First I have heard about this DC]

I actually visually saw the guy fire the 3 shots. He wasn't in a uniform. He was in plain clothes. I was actually screaming, no, calm down, he is shooting the door out because like I say, he just caused a huge panic, because now, obviously everybody knows it's a terrorist attack, and this guy is shooting his gun off. So he blew the doors out to the college, because they were glass doors. He climbed in, called people, try to get to safety.

At that point, I looked back, right before I made the turn, and it looked like most of the dust. It wasn't coming that far, so I wasn't too concerned about the actual building, so we stopped for a minute, relaxed, and walked back out on to the highway, and then said, okay, we need to set up another triage, figure something out. By the same people, Joe Cahill, Lieutenant Bearman and myself, some other people, I don't know who they were, all met up at the north corner of the college and we were trying to figure out how to get into the college to set up the triage and just get people off the street. 

Joe Cahill made arrangements with some staff person at the college to get the gym open, which was on the second floor, but had an access stairwell from outside the building. So we went up into the gym, which they got open. We laid -- there's mats. We laid down mats. Brought some supplies in from the ambulance that was sitting on the street. 

Don't ask me the number, it was an ALS ambulance. We got into the back door. Took their supplies out. Put those inside. Figured we will take members, police or whoever was like, you know, couldn't move, but you know, wasn't in need to go to the hospital, we just let them sit in there and take a break. 

After we got that set up, we figured we will shuffle people up, MERV 4 was parked in the street right outside the door, so they were taking anybody that was truly hurt. They were looking at -- there was numerous ambulances on the West Side Highway. Basically like I said, everybody was just trying to see what they could do.

At the same point, one of the Lieutenants said, I don't know his name, said get everybody to take their coats and their gear off, because we don't know what's -- if they are contaminated with anything, before they go into the building. 

So at that point, I went over to one of the fire Chiefs on the West Side Highway, where there was a fire truck parked. There was no firemen except for two injured firemen and this injured Chief, we were thinking of taking supplies off the truck, possibly hook up a hydrant to get decon going. The Chief said take whatever you want. 

So it looked like a probationary firefighter who was off duty, because he was clean, he just like -- he had just shown up and a plainclothes cop and myself took a fire hose, hooked up to the fire hydrant right in front of the Community College, about a hundred feet from this intersection, and we put the hose to the corner, figuring as people come out at the intersection, we will wash them down, throw them in the gym, and let them get -- you know, take a break.  
I don't know what time frame that was, or how long it took us to get all that accomplished, but it took a time. By that point, we set all that up, the gym was open, we had the whole plan, put everybody in the gym, wash them down, and if there was injured, the MERV was there.

So it seemed kind of organized, and it had an action plan, and sometime around there, we could hear on the Citywide radio that they were sending the rest of the units in to Chelsea Piers for north staging. I don't think they even knew we were there, because the radio was just too tied up to even try to tell them where we were.

So we just figured, you know, we are together, we will stay together, the people we had, treat them, there was ambulances there. Just throw them in the ambulances and get them out. We need to get people out. I guess all the responding units were going to Chelsea Piers, but we figured it was too far away to try to bring patients, because, I mean, it's a drive. So we figured if anybody -- if we needed to go there, we could go there, but we figured we still needed to treat people where we were.

Sometime around the same point they ended up calling, the Lieutenants came out to everybody and said we are evacuating, drop whatever you got, grab our supplies. We are getting out, because the Stuyvesant school they were feared was going to explode and there were reports of gas leaks and additional devices.

So about the same point we dropped all of our equipment, some of the EMTs and Lieutenants took the supplies that we had in the building out, threw them in the back of some of the ambulances, and sometime around that point, we were just like, okay, let's just get out. 

At that point I was tired and I was like okay, I'm getting out. Got in the back of one ambulance that had the windows blown out, but the crew was in the front, so they start driving, so they opened the back doors and we stood in the back and there was all the other people on the street. We piled them all in the back of the ambulance and we drove up to Chelsea Piers. I remember, I think it was Pelham Manor Fire Department we threw in the back. A couple of cops, a couple of EMTs, I think St. Claire's EMTs. We had about 20 people in the back I wouldn't doubt it. We just drove up to Chelsea Piers.

At that point, that's like, we just gave up on what we were doing and we just headed to Chelsea Piers and then, you know, everybody regrouped, found who they were working with. Looked like most of the guys who were by themselves, they lost their partners, teamed up with somebody else and about that point they were setting up the hospital at Chelsea Piers. Some of the guys that were by themselves, I noticed went over to the hospital and were working out of the field hospital, big help. But I didn't see any patients go up there, except for that one Firefighter. I sat there for the rest of the night. 

Then the Lieutenant said I'm going back to the station. You got a vehicle? I said okay, I'll come with you. It had to be sometime, I guess, around 6:00. Like I said, I can't tell you how long it took to accomplish the tasks. I didn't notice the watch. I was on the north side of the north tower at 6 World Trade Center when the south tower collapsed. Got out of that, grouped, the north tower collapsed, got out of that, went to the college, tried to set up and that's when they said they blew up the school and there might be additional explosions and they said evacuate the downtown area and then I went up to Chelsea Piers. 

I don't think I missed any, but that's about it.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add to this? Anything at all?

A. I don't think so. Obviously as you know, there was a lot going on. Lots of people moving around. Obviously there was numerous firefighters and everybody was coming south. We were all trying to find a safe distance to triage and do our work, but they didn't tell you what was safe at that point.

MR. ECCLESTON: Right. Okay. The time is 8 o'clock, this concludes our interview with Thomas 17 T. J. BENDICK Bendick.



File No. 9110221
WORLD TRADE CENTER
TASK FORCE INTERVIEW
FIREFIGHTER ERIC BERNTSEN
Interview Date: December 4, 2001
Transcribed by Elisabeth F. Nason
Image result for IMAGES OF 911 FIREFIGHTERS 

BATTALION CHIEF LAKIOTES: Today's date is December 4, 2001. The time is 1300 hours. My name is Battalion Chief Art Lakiotes of the Safety Command. I am conducting an interview with -- 

FIREFIGHTER BERNTSEN: Eric Berntsen.

BATTALION CHIEF LAKIOTES: -- Firefighter Eric Berntsen regarding the events of September 11, 2001.

Q. Eric, would you just mind telling me in your own words, from the time you responded, exactly where and what and how the day unfolded for you.

A. Okay. We heard the explosions from the kitchen. We went up on the roof and got there just in time to see the second plane hit the towers. So we figured we would be going on that. So we ran downstairs. By the time we got down to the apparatus floor, we got the ticket. It was about five after 9:00. I jumped on the rig. I was an extra man. The dispatcher came over and announced to bring the extra man. I was supposed to be detailed to 205, but I called to quarters and they said they were out, so I jumped on the rig. 

We went down to the Trade Center. On the way there, we experienced a lot of traffic. We went over the Brooklyn Bridge, came down Church Street, made a right onto Liberty, and parked near 10 and 10's quarters, on the opposite side, on 10 and 10's side of Liberty. We grabbed the rollups and an extra bottle and walked down Liberty towards West Street. When we got to the corner of West Street, we made a right and I ran into the Marriott. We stopped underneath the pedestrian bridge where a lot of guys were using that for shelter, so we didn't get hit by anything coming down, bodies, et cetera.

We ran into the Marriott and stayed by the security desk there. The officer went off, got orders from a Chief, and we were told to go to the 74th floor of the south tower. He came back, told us what we were doing. We gathered the company together, started heading north through the Marriott. Then we made a right and went down the ramp to get to the concourse level.

We headed eastbound in the concourse level to where it first turns up to the left, where the mall turns up to the left, up north, and we got to that corner and the officer told us to wait there. Instead of carrying the stuff all around, he was going to try to find a staircase or the best way we could get up.He walked away. He went west in the concourse and talked to a security guy. He was, I guess, about 100 feet away from us, maybe more.

That's when we heard the building start shaking. I looked up into the Marriott, because you could see up into it from where we were standing, and just saw black, like dust. I saw stuff falling off the ceiling and I saw just black dust coming down. I turned and I ran a couple of steps west, a couple of steps east, and then we turned up north, up into the concourse, because I didn't see anything falling in that area at that time. So I felt that was the safest direction to go. I jumped into a corner. The lights went out. I jumped into a corner under an archway. I thought maybe that might provide some better support. I just held my helmet. I figured we were going to get like a pancake collapse on top of us.

After the building stopped shaking and there was no rumbling noise any more, Vinny Picciano of 212 regrouped the company by saying 212, regroup, get back. 212, where are you? We all got back together. We all turned on our lights. We talked to the civilians, told them to keep quiet, to stay calm, don't yell or scream, everybody stay calm, we are going to get out of here. We asked if anybody knew how to get out. Me and this guy who was with us, he said he knew how, but he couldn't really see too much. He looked like he was blinded by the dust. We just walked store to store. He was asking us what store do you see? We told him all the stores and we just headed north through the concourse and came out in between the PATH and the number 1 and number 9 line. There is an exit there that comes out into building 5. It comes out on the exterior of building 5, which leaves you off in the middle of Vesey Street, between Church and West Broadway. 

We got out, myself and Jimmy Murphy, who was detailed to 212 from 220 Engine. We chocked the doors outside, went back in, told all the people this is an exit. We had about 50 civilians with us. We told them to exit out that way. We made kind of like a chain with lights, with flashlights, so they could see where they were going to get them out. Once everybody was out, we went back in and we started searching.

We tried to give a Mayday for our officer because our officer wasn't with us. We couldn't find him. We went back in and we searched the stores, searched the PATH. There were some more people still in there. I remember a guy from the GAP. He was the manager. I asked if anybody was in there. He said no, he was the last guy to leave. So we got him out. We found a guy, probably in his mid 40s, bald head, or short crew cut hair, under the concrete. We picked him up, put him in a chair and carried him out.

When we got out on to Vesey, there was a Port Authority cop with us and he said that they were given reports that the second building was going to come down. So we made a decision we'd better leave. We came out of the door on Vesey Street. We were exhausted from carrying this gentleman who was pretty heavy, we estimated about 300 pounds, 275. It took six guys to carry him. We were all exhausted. We were changing. We didn't know if we could get him out of there before this building was going to come down, so we put him down for a second, took a breath, and made a decision to just go for it and pick him up. We made it a couple of steps and then we heard the rumble and we knew the second tower was coming down. Everybody let go of the guy and ran. There was no talking, no looking. You just went.

Q. What direction?

A. There was a cop, NYPD, I'm pretty sure it was  an NYPD guy, and Vinnie Picciano were in front of me. We were facing north. We didn't even reach the sidewalk. We didn't even get off the sidewalk in front of building 5. I saw them run forward, north, heading across the street.

Q. Up West Broadway?

A. Across Vesey Street from where building 5 is. Directly straight across Vesey Street towards the Federal Office Building, the Post Office. Vinnie and the cop jumped under a car. Vinnie Picciano jumped up on top of him. There was no room for me there and I thought I could make it a little bit further than that. So once I hit the sidewalk on the Federal Building, on Vesey, I turned right, which had me east on Vesey Street, and I started running. Then I looked up and I saw a dark cloud and I grabbed my helmet. 

The force knocked me down, blew me. I don't know how far I went, but I went forward pretty far. It knocked the wind out of me. I got covered with debris and just kept my hands on my helmet. Something pretty big hit me and knocked my helmet off. I felt a blast and just a lot of pressure when it hit me. So I had no helmet. I put my hands back on top of my head and I felt debris hit me. I felt weight piling up on my back and I figured I was going to be under what I thought was about 10 feet of rubble. 

When it all stopped, I said what do I do now? I said, well, I can't breathe. Let me get my mask on. I got my mask out. I didn't realize my bottle wasn't on. So I couldn't reach it because I was face down, and I kind of gave up. Then I was still laying there. I said I can't just lay here. I said let me get out of here. Let me see how deep I am, see what I can do. I remember saying I have no radio, this fucking job, I can't get any kind of radio. 

When I pulled myself out from this debris that was on my back and my legs, I was up against the wall of the Federal Building, and then I realized it was still pitch black. I said I must be in a big void because it was pitch black and I couldn't see anywhere. 

Then, as it started lightening up a little bit, I started using my light. I was able to see over the top of the debris around me. I could see up the wall a little bit. I realized, holy shit, I'm free. I'm not buried. I got up. I took a step and just collapsed because I had no energy. I got up again, took two more steps and collapsed. Then a cop picked me up and helped me walk up to Church. I made a left on Church and there was a car on fire on the corner. 

Maybe 50 feet, 100 feet up Church, I saw Vinnie Picciano, who was under the car with that cop. He was stumbling around. He had a bad gash on the back of his head. There was blood coming out from the back of his turnout coat. He was a little dizzy and disoriented. He asked me to look at his cut. I told him it's all right. You will be okay. I didn't really think so, but what are you going to tell him at that point? I said you got a good cut, but you're going to be all right.

We walked up Church, made a right on to Barclay and dropped our masks and continued up to Broadway and got to I guess it was Park Place maybe and Broadway. We got into the back of an ambulance and got Vinnie's head checked out. Then we left the ambulance because there were secondary collapses. I was hearing secondary collapses and I didn't know how far away we were. I didn't know how much of the building came off. I said I want to get out of here, as far away from this place as possible.

We headed north and got to Duane Street. I said, oh, the 7 and 1 is over here. We made a left and we walked into the quarters. Three guys that were in the company, Jimmy Murphy, Joe Galasso, Danny Walker, they were all standing there.

Q. What company are they in?

A. 212. Same company. Me and Vinnie thought they were dead because we were the only two that walked in. We only saw each other on Church. They must have came out before us, after us, you know. What happened is they ran back into World Trade Center 5. Me and Vinnie and the cop ran forward. So they were okay, but they got beat up with the debris. They got tossed around, blown off their feet. So we had everybody except the officer and the chauffeur. We didn't know where the chauffeur was because we were on the complete opposite side now.

We saw a Chief. We let the Chief know that these guys were missing. So we regrouped and from 7 and 1 we took an ambulance to Jamaica Hospital, Queens. That's most of my recollection.

Q. The Lieutenant and the chauffeur?

A. They were alive. The chauffeur got blown down I don't know what street. Somewhere.

Q. He was with the rig?

A. Yes, he was with the rig. The officer made  it out with some of the guys from 238. I don't know how they got out. I don't know which direction they went in.

Q. I'll try to get an interview with him.

A. Yes. But he made it out and he was with Lieutenant Glenn Wilkinson. They were trying to come back, to get back into the building, because he knew we were in there, and they were trying to get a mask. By the time they got masks for each of them, they lost it after the collapse. They were tangled and stuff. They dropped it. I don't know about looking for my officer.

Q. What was his name?

A. Neil Brosnan.

Q. Did you notice any other companies in the lobby of the Marriott when you were in there?

A. No, I didn't. The only person I saw that I recognized was Chuck Margiotta and he was asking everybody if they had an extra mask for a Chief.

Q. His unit is?

A. I don't know what unit he was working in that day. I believe he was assigned to 85 Truck, but I don't know where he was working that day.

Q. You saw him in the lobby?

A. I saw him in the lobby.

Q. Do you remember how far down in the lobby off of Liberty, off the staircase? A hundred feet down?

A. About 100 feet down. I saw him there, but then he left. I don't know how far he went, but I saw him headed north.

Q. Towards tower 1?

A. Right. Towards the north tower. I saw him headed that way.

Q. How many guys do you think were in the lobby at that point when you got there; 20, 50, 100, crowded?

A. At least 50. Probably over 10, maybe 15 companies, 12 companies, something like that. There were Chiefs. I saw a couple of Chiefs who were just kind of walking through. I don't remember who they were.

Q. What happened to the rig? Did the rig survive?

A. The rig survived. It got beat up, the windows blown out, a little fire damage, not that much. 

BATTALION CHIEF LAKIOTES: Okay. Very good. Excellent. This concludes the interview. It is now 1320.


File No. 9110503
WORLD TRADE CENTER
TASK FORCE INTERVIEW
FIREFIGHTER PAUL BESSLER
Interview Date: January 21, 2002
Transcribed by Nancy Francis 

BATTALION CHIEF KENAHAN: Today is January 21st, 2002, the time is 1:05 p.m., and this is Battalion Chief Dennis Kenahan from the Safety Battalion of the Fire Department of the City of New York. I'm conducting an interview with Firefighter Paul Bessler from Engine 1 in the quarters of Engine 1.

Q. Paul, just tell the events as you recall them from September 11th.

A. Okay. I'll start with Engine 1's arrival to the building. We responded to the north tower and we proceeded up to the 22nd floor. When we got to the 22nd floor, there was a staging area for I believe it was the Port Authority Police, and our proby was having chest pains, and my Lieutenant, Andy Desperito, gave an urgent for Firefighter Craig Dunn, probationary firefighter, which kind of slowed us down a little bit. We would have continued up, but we wanted to make sure he was getting assistance. His urgent was given and it was answered. I don't know by who

So we were going to proceed up. He was in good hands with the Port Authority cops. While we were in the hallway, we were taking a breather, the south tower fell. We all thought it was a secondary explosion or maybe a plane, but we never knew that the south tower fell. We just knew, whatever it was, that it was really bad. So the lights had gone out and the ceiling tiles fell and we all turned our flashlights on and went into the staircase to get shelter because the shafts were open. On the 22nd floor, some of the elevator shafts were actually open. I don't know who had said it but they said, you know, get into the staircase, and we all went in the staircase. The emergency lighting was on.

Andy actually started going up the staircase, which, in my mind, I thought he's not going up the stairs. After what just happened, this is not good. There's something we don't know. He was on a mission to go up the stairs. The brothers were up. Just at that point, my radio came clear as day, "Imminent collapse. This was a terrorist attack. Evacuate." That's exactly what I heard. I think that was Chief Picciotto that was giving the order. We relayed that again, hoping that the brothers would hear it above us, and I remember the look on Andy's face, like apprehension that we were going to leave this building.

Q. What's Andy's last name?

A. Desperito. Andy Desperito. 

Anyhow, he looked at me and told me to take Craig, the proby, and get him out safely, which I did. I grabbed Craig by the collar and said come on, we're getting out. I started going down the stairs, everybody behind us. We came a cross that woman, Josephine Harris, who was saved by Ladder 6. I stopped for a moment, and just as I did, the staircase kind of got clogged because we blocked the landing and just for a moment I looked thinking how can we help this lady? All of a sudden I hear somebody yelling go, go, we got her. I look up and it's Andy and sure enough he's going to help everybody, Andy, you know? We started going back down the stairs again because I figured, okay, she's not going to be left. We continued on our way.

We got to about the 4th floor and the emergency lighting now was dim, covered with white powder and whatever, and we caught up to the civilians. They were kind of backed up. What happened was, I guess, it was dark at the bottom of the staircase and I shined my flashlight and started yelling for people to move and, eventually, with our lights, they were able to see and it kind of flushed everybody out and all those civilians were able to get out of the staircase ahead of us. I was expecting like a pileup. I didn't expect to be able to get out of the staircase, to tell you the truth.

When I got down to the lobby, now the lobby was a disaster. It was slippery. It was just -- you know, it wasn't the same lobby that I came into it seemed. We got to the lobby and there was a Chief. I don't remember who he was, but he screamed at us and pointed, and he pointed towards West Street, which we went out right to the building. When I got to the apron, I looked up to see if any more -- there was a lot of jumpers and people were still jumping and we looked up to make sure it was clear, put our heads down and we ran out.

Q. Just one thing. When you said he was screaming at you, he was telling you to leave?

A. Yes. Go, go, and pointing towards West Street, just yelling, go, go, go. I expected maybe to hang out in the lobby for a little, you know, not thinking I was in danger. So we went out. We realized. We said, you know, he's ordering us to get out, so we did, and that's how we kind of got separated from our guys because now he's telling us to go, so now there's a distance between the guys in the staircase. 

So we get out to the apron, look up to make sure it's clear. I was with the proby. I didn't want anything happening at this point. We just crossed the barricades and started walking and there was all that white dust in the street. It was like a five-inch snowstorm, like just fresh powder. We were actually making footprints in it. I didn't see anybody outside except for just the jumpers. I mean, we really didn't see anybody and it was really bizarre. It was surreal. It didn't make sense. There were so many people on arrival and now there's nobody, and we never knew the south tower fell still.

Just as we got towards the walkway, I looked back because I heard what I thought was another jet, and it was the building on its way down already. My guys had just came out. They were on the apron and they were just going to cross the barricade and stuff was -- the debris was on its way down and we just ran. We had our masks on. Our face pieces were actually on because the proby was having problems with chest pains, having difficulty breathing, so even when we were on the 4th floor, I made him put his mask on and I did the same thing.

So we had our masks on and we were running towards Vesey Street as fast as we could with all our gear, and as we were running, thinking we're never going to make it. It was just ridiculous to think you were going to make it. We both wound up getting knocked down by the blast, I guess, from like a pressure wave. It took us off our feet. My helmet flew off. We got up and just continued running, and then the dust cloud just engulfed us, and basically it was over our head like two or three blocks but down. It kind of went -- it's hard to explain on tape, but the dust cloud had gone further up the block, higher. The lower section was like a few blocks back. So it kind of stayed on us the whole way, and all the guys I knew were behind us in it and I never thought I'd see them again, you know.

We made our way out of there. I got Craig to an ambulance and they took him immediately, and just as they were putting him in and prepping him in the ambulance, they said there was a gas leak and we heard some secondary explosions and all the ambulances and ESU trucks kind of took off in the other direction. So now I'm running by myself in the dust with nobody left from my company, and I started calling on the radio, you know, anybody from Engine 1? I was just asking anybody seen Engine 1? I didn't get any response at all. So it was just a lonely feeling. I didn't quite understand what really took place. 

After a while I found a couple of guys that I know and they said that there were guys looking for me, so I knew that a couple of my members had made it. In the back of my mind, I just never thought -- I was hoping Andy Desperito was okay, but I kind of didn't think he was going to -- you know, it was too close for us, so anybody behind us, I really didn't think they made it. I found a couple of my members and found out about Father Mike and found out that -- I guess it must have been maybe 40 minutes to an hour, they already had found Andy. They found his body. It wasn't confirmed but it was confirmed to me by guys I trust.

We made our way back to the command post, which was now on Vesey Street, I guess, and we didn't know what to do. We were there, we had no boss, and we just kind of wandered around aimlessly thinking what can we do? We can't go look for our boss. We've already found him. Like what are we supposed to do at this point? So we decided we would just go back to the firehouse and try to deal with everything and kind of report the story and try to find out who made it, who  didn't, from the truck. 

That's pretty much it. I mean, sparing all the details, you know. 

Q. All right. Well, if there's anything else you want to add --

A. No, that's pretty much it. I got it wrapped up into a short story now.

BATTALION CHIEF KENAHAN: Okay. Well, thank you, Paul.

FIREFIGHTER BESSLER: You're welcome.

BATTALION CHIEF KENAHAN: The time now is 1:13 and this concludes the interview. 


File No. 9110134
WORLD TRADE CENTER
TASK FORCE INTERVIEW 
DAVID BLACKSBERG 
Interview Date: October 23, 2001 
Transcribed by Maureen McCormick 
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MR. DUN: Today is October 23, 2001. The time is 555 hours in the morning, and this is Richard Dun with the New York City Fire Department, working with Marisa Abbriano, and we are interviewing -- 

MR. BLACKSBERG: DAVID BLACKSBERG, EMT, Battalion 31.

Q. Can you just describe in your own words regarding the events of September 11, 2001?

A. About eight o'clock in the morning, we were driving by the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, my partner and I, and we sat, and an ALS vehicle approached us. We were sitting by -- we looked up and all of a sudden -- we were ready -- we heard something, and we looked up because we were right across the water, and we had seen Tower 1 at that time was already on fire. 

The paramedic unit that we work with approached us and said, "Let's go." We went, and we were able to get onto the Brooklyn Bridge and cross. We were at the intersection, I guess, of West and Liberty, a little bit -- a little bit further north of that, so we were right across the street of 1 World Trade. We got out of the ALS vehicle, and I -- we parked our vehicles right across the street. We got out. We put our helmets on and our turnout coats. 

We approached the building, and we heard some loud noise. We felt some rumbling, so we looked up, and there was another plane coming in. Went behind, I guess it banked around another building, so at that time we didn't really see it hit the building, but we heard it, and we felt it, and we saw it approaching. 

We got to get back in our vehicles. So we got back in, and we only ended up going -- I guess it felt like a mile away, but it's half a block. 

Q.Where did you first stop the vehicle? 

A.We first stopped right on the west side. 

Q.West Street? 

A.Right on West Street, yeah, and Westside Highway 

Q.Right. 

A.Right in front of 1 World Trade. 

Q.Okay. 

A.We were right in at the -- there's I guess what is it called, the median -- no. 

Q. The walkway? 

A. Yeah, the walkway in between the highway. 

Q. That goes into -- 

A. No, the one that goes right in between the highway. 

Q. By the Winter Garden? 

A. Yeah. 

Q. That glass thing. 

A. Right. We originally parked over there right on the highway, and we ended up parking -- moving our vehicles, and we parked underneath the pedestrian walkway going from Winter Garden to I guess it was 2 World Financial Center, over there. 

We parked our vehicles there. We got out, and we had made our own staging over there at that time, because everybody was split up, and we had to split up once we got out of our vehicles, and we saw that second plane hit. We had to move, and when we moved, we wound up making our own staging. 

Q. Was there a lot of chaos, commotion, people running? 

A. There were a lot of people running all over the place and -- 

Q. Running towards you? 

A. They were running away. Well, toward us, toward other vehicles and just away in general. I didn't even know until a couple of people told me later that there were a whole lot of people crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, but I just knew everybody was scattered all over the place. 

At that time, we had approximately four people approach us, and a fifth one was coming saying, "There's somebody coming that's really badly burned." I got the ALS unit ready, and I told them, and we had the person that was really badly burned -- I told them to get back onto the paramedic trunk, and they took care of him.

Q. Who was the ALS unit?

A. 32 Victor.

Q. Do you know their names?

A. Ellen -- I don't remember the last name -- and her partner. I don't recall. They are from Long Island College Hospital. 

Q. Okay. 

A. And so they took the burn victim while we were handling everybody else, and I had called over the radio telling them that we had formed a new staging area. I don't know whether they heard me or not, because there was a whole lot of chaos. 

Q. Was this before either tower came down? 

A. Yeah, this was way before either tower came down. This was right after Tower 2 had gotten hit, within two minutes I believe, if that long. 

So 32, they took the burn victim to Cornell, and we were by ourselves, my partner and I, just getting overloaded with a whole lot of patients, and we had no idea if there was anybody else coming. We stabilized them as much as we could. 

People were coming down with minor bruises. They asked if they needed to go to the hospital. I said, "If you're walking and can tell what's going you can, you know, just keep walking away. There nothing much I can do for you right now, because I a whole lot of people." 

I don't know, you know, a whole lot of on 1 is have commotion going on, so finally everybody is saying, you know, there's people coming or there's somebody down in front of the building. I'm approaching the building, but there's a whole lot of debris coming down, so I decided not to an approach, go into the building. Got as close as I could. 

There was just bodies everywhere. We were watching them coming down. We heard them coming down, everybody screaming. A lot of debris. We didn't even know what it was. I guess it was metal, and papers and computers, I guess, we saw computer stuff on the ground, and we just watched and heard people jumping. 

Someone said, "There's somebody that's still moving. Somebody is alive." I also saw a dog that was tied up in front of the building, and I approached. I got hit with some debris, so I decided not to go, so I had a lot of people that were walking. I said let me take care of them, because I know I can help them. 

I did that, and in a couple of minutes or so a couple of units started approaching, and I told them where we had set up staging because they were also lost, so I was standing on the corner of West, of Westside Highway, and I guess just over by 2 World Financial. 

Q. Did you see any officers, captains, chiefs? 

A. Not for awhile. Not for awhile. I didn't see a chief, and then a chief came -- I believe he was a fire chief. I told him what we had, and he just took off. He said, "Okay, I'll notify whoever." I said, "Okay fine." Then another chief came, an EMS chief.

Q. Who was that? 

A. I don't know his name. I don't remember. I took so many names down, and then it was just so busy. It was really chaotic. When the chief came, I told him what I had, and what was going on and what I had  already done, and I already took down all the names of all the vehicles that had approached, and he didn't seem really to care what was going on. 
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Finally, we said -- okay, we parked our vehicles, and everything was clustered, and people everywhere, so finally we got some water. 

Q. That's when I showed up. 

A. Yes, that is when 32 boy had showed up, right when we started to get our vehicles set up. 

Q. This is after the first building collapsed or -- 

A. Still before. 

Q. This still -- 

A. Still prior to the buildings coming down. We were still there watching and hearing people jump, and patients were still approaching. We had cleaned up, you know, staged our vehicles by the water, so that if an emergency did happen that we could take off or we could take as many patients as possible. 

There was, I guess, a fire started getting really bad, and a lot of stuff -- well, it was already  bad, but we just stood by and watched people jump. Pretty much that's all we could do is just watch and listen, listen to our radios and see what would happen. 

Q. Radio communication was okay? There was no problem with that, other than the chaos on the radio? 

A. There was -- it was -- I guess it was all right because once they decided what was going to happen, because they -- finally they said that all -- all bosses would go on to citywide and everybody else goes onto Manhattan South. I was finally able to hear that, but they obviously didn't hear me say anything about where I was setting up staging, or didn't want to hear it or anything like that, and so we were overcome with so many people. 

Once the vehicles were all set up for, I guess, a new staging area that we had set up over there, it was all set up. We just sat and watched, had people coming to us, and next thing you know, we started hearing -- just actually, there was a lot of rumors that a third plane was going to come in, so we were standing by looking up, listening. There was no third plane. The building started coming down. 

Q. Was your vehicle still on the pedestrian walkway? 

A. It was actually half a block up now. 

Q. Close (inaudible) ? 

A. But I -- everything from when I was parked across the street from One Liberty, right? When I was originally parked from One Liberty to when I finally removed it and cleaned up for the staging, there was only a block, block and a half, so it really wasn't that far. It was right across the street. We started hearing the building, and we saw it tipping. It was just leaning. 

Q. You saw it leaning? 

A. Well, I looked up, and I thought I saw it leaning. Later on it was confirmed that it was leaning, and it was starting to come down, and so we just started booking. We ran as fast as we could, wherever we could. Everybody scattered all over the place. Nobody knew where anybody else went. 
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I looked -- I ran, and a whole lot of people, we were all running together. I looked back, and it was like it was this cloud of smoke, but it was like an avalanche, because you could see the smoke and everything tumbling right at you. You couldn't see up, you couldn't see back, and no matter how fast you ran, you couldn't out run it, and it overtook us, and finally I found my partner. 

We grabbed hands, and we just ran, and then the next thing you know, we had people grabbing my arm. Then they split up us, got my other arm, and my partner, Juan Rios, they grabbed his arms and said, "Where are we going?" Because it was so cloudy and smoky, dusty and everything else that we really didn't know where we were going. We just kept on running. 

Everybody was panicking, and I told them to -- we had babies crying, kids crying, adults not -- lost not knowing what to do, where to go. People are walking back. People are walking in circles. My partner and I, we were the only EMS people, fire people or anybody that we could see of, even PD. We didn't know where anybody went. Calling on our radio to find out where everybody is. Nothing. Everybody is over the radio, so you couldn't do anything. 

Finally, we told people to cover their mouths with the T-shirts if they had, cover their mouths with their arms. People just wanted to sit down and do nothing. There was papers and the smell and everything else that was in the smoke that we didn't know about, you know, and the dust. We had them cover -- keep their heads down. People were closing their eyes while grabbing onto us. We had a whole chain link of people. 

Q. All this chain link, was it all EMS people? 

A. It was just my partner and I that were EMS, fire or PD. Just the two of us, and we started talking to people, trying to calm them down.

Q. Civilians? 

A. They were all civilians, and actually quite a few of them were from 1 World Trade. They were from -- I don't know. One girl was telling me she was from the 63rd Floor, and another one was telling me she was from the 84th, and then there was other people, too. I don't remember what floors they told me from, but I remember these two, and they told me that they ran down, and I see they were still wearing high heels. How in the world are you running with these shoes on? So you kind of had to joke around a little bit, even though it wasn't really a joking situation, but you had to calm everybody down. Especially myself, you know. So I kind of used that to calm myself down and everybody else, joking around as we were walking now, because once you ran and the smoke and everything caught up to you, there was no use running, because it's already caught up, and you're already breathing the stuff in. 

Q. Did you get blown into something, or did you duck under the buses or -- 

A. We had finally found a couple of city buses that were just parked just before Battery Park. 

Q. Battery Park City? 

A. Yeah, we ran. Well, it felt like a lot anyway . 

Q. This is going towards the Battery Tunnel 

A. Okay, so we are down here by the park. We ran all the way down to the park. I can't tell you what you route we took, because we just -- 

Q. I don't think you really care. 

A. Because we just kept going around, no. We went by Battery Park, and we saw two city buses there, and I told them to get on, and they said, "Where are the buses going?" Everybody's asking where the buses are going. I said, "Doesn't matter, as long as, you know, you're sitting here, and you are away from everything else. Doesn't matter where the buses are going. Right now, doesn't look like they're going anywhere." Everybody is worried about where they were going. I said, "Well, the air is cleaner in here. It's going to be dirty, but it's cleaner in here than it is outside."

At that time, we still didn't have masks. Nobody had masks. Finally we sat everybody in there. My partner and I went back out trying to find more people. A lot of babies, a lot of kids, adults. We told them all where to go. We were directing as many people as we could find that were lost. 
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Finally, we found two more EMS people, but they weren't working for the Fire Department. They worked for a private company. I think it was Cabrini, but I'm not positive. 

Q. Building 2 still didn't go down yet? 

A. At that time, we had no idea what was going on, because we were running, and we just heard the first building coming down, so I lost track of time of when the second building was coming down. It sounded like one big rumble, and then it just sounded like it just continued, and I was -- I wasn't really paying attention. I was looking at the sound. I was looking at the smoke and everything. I was listening to the people that were screaming. I didn't really hear another building coming down, so we ended up going into the park, getting people to come down and standing by the water, because there was a little bit of a clearing down there, and everybody standing by the water. We  were standing by the water. 

We were trying to go over our radios trying to find out if there was another staging area near us. I don't know how much longer that we found out, but it was quite a bit longer, a couple of hours, and now it felt like a couple of minutes, but now I know it was probably an hour or two. We found out that there was staging right at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, which was half a block away. 

Q. That is half a mile away. 

A. When we started walking, it felt like it was closer, you know. I was just happy to see other people, I guess. 

Q. That's good. 

A. When we were still at the water, at the park, we flagged down a fire chief. Actually ended up being an EMS chief. I don't know his name. I don't know. 

Q. It's okay. 

A. I wasn't really thinking about taking down names, and we just set up over there, and there was carts inside, inside the park, the vendors that sell the water, and food and everything. Everybody was just taking water, trying to wash out their eyes, wash out their throats. 

Nobody could breathe. Everything was stuck in their throats, and their eyes, mouths, faces and everything, so we were taking water, washing everybody as much as we could, because we didn't have any equipment, my partner and I, and there was no ambulance there, nothing, except for the command vehicle, and they didn't have much either. So we took whatever we could. A couple of boats started to show up, and we just put people on the boats, and everybody was worried about where they were going. 

Q. You took injured people or -- 

A. Injured, noninjured, all civilians, but both injured and noninjured, both going onto the boats. Everybody was worried about where it was going. 

They were going to Ellis Island, Jersey City and Staten Island. Those were the three places I remember the boats going. We were putting people on the boats. I told them it didn't matter where it was going. You'll always find a way home, and people were saying, "I just live a block away." I told them, "I guarantee you, you are not going to be allowed to go back in your apartment at least for a day, two days. If you are lucky, it will be two days." 

Finally we started kicking everybody -- not really kicking them, but telling them, pushing them onto the boat and telling them to go. I told them they had no choice. There really was no choice for them. They had to go, so everybody was going on. I said, "Where do you live?" This is the closest one. Brooklyn would be the closest. Staten Island would be the closest, or Jersey City, wherever they lived, just get on. 

Finally, people started getting onto the boats, and we were actually trying to find another -- another EMS person, and I -- he worked for the Fire Department. We went and found a fire truck, took the fire hose and a wrench, because we thought we had seen a hydrant, but there was none, because we were trying to get some water to wash the stuff down and try to clean up, but there was nothing there, and next thing you know, everybody was walking -- there was another -- somebody had gone back and got an ambulance, so at that time there was a fire chief, no lieutenants, and about six EMTs from the Fire Department, and we were pretty much doing everything down at the water over there. 

Then we walked over -- once we found out -- once we got everybody onto the boats, cleared that  whole section off with the pedestrians and civilians, we went over to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. That's where we found out that a lot of people were going, and that was one of the main staging areas. 

They started setting it up like a makeshift hospital there. People were coming down from the Trade Centers, being transported, and then we triaged them over there, and they were put onto the Staten Island Ferry and shipped over to Staten Island where I guess there was more EMTs over there. 

Finally, there was really nothing much going on. People were coming in, but not steadily, and my partner and I felt useless. We were like, what are we doing here? There is nothing going on, nobody coming now. At that time there was nobody coming for maybe 20 minutes, it could have been longer. I lost track of time the whole day. The whole day felt like it was five minutes long. 

We said there is nothing going on here. We made sure our names were on the list, because there was a lieutenant taking names on a list. 

Q. EMS lieutenant? 

A. EMS lieutenant at the Staten Island ferry, so I made sure our name was on the list. I wanted somebody to know that we were all right, you know, that were there. We started walking up and found out that we were -- that we saw some of the EMTs handing out masks to people that were still walking away. 

There were still dust and clouds. Everything was in the air and like that for a couple of weeks. We started handing out masks. We were walking up handing out masks. It felt like we were doing something because we -- you know, we're just sitting in there doing nothing. We walked up and we ended up -- it was a -- there was an ambulance from Midwood, and they were going -- they said that they were going to go up to ground zero. 

At that time, we didn't know what it was called, but they were going to go up to the area, which is now ground zero. We said, "All right, can we hop aboard with you?" And he said, "Yes, absolutely." 

We took the bus right up, took the ambulance up there, and we found out that staging was now at One Liberty, and Juan and another EMT ended up walking back. My partner Juan, he walked back. Rios walked back, and I stayed up there, because I knew Juan, and I knew the other guy that he was with, that also works at the station, they were walking back, so I knew that  they would be all right. They were partners, and they saw me going with the lieutenant and other EMTs, so we had split up. My partner and I split up a lot, but we ended up finding each other somehow. At that time he walked back, and I stayed. 

I had a radio. My partner lost his radio and his helmet, everything at the same time, so it didn't matter, but I knew that -- 

Q. Fine. 

A. I stayed up there, and I had a radio, and I was calling making sure everybody was all right. I had a cell phone on me, calling back and forth, and next thing you know we were on the rubble digging and getting fire, and PD and everybody else that was getting hurt. Meanwhile, some of us were hurting. 

Q. And this point was it towards the end -- 

A. This was actually about -- I don't know. Maybe three o'clock in the afternoon. I had already gone into overtime for me. I ended up staying until the next morning. I stayed. It ended up being about 25 hours that I was there. I tried to get a half-hour nap, but you can't, because you couldn't breathe. Anyway, we had some mess. They were like paper. 

Q. How did you ever get back to the station? 

A. Well, I found another EMT, and in the morning when we just said that we were exhausted and ready to come back, he said, "You can walk to the Brooklyn Bridge and come back" and I said, "Well, I know that there is a vehicle down at the Staten Island Ferry, because that was mine." Somebody had moved it earlier in the day, and I had the key, so I said, "If we're lucky, the ambulance is still there. I know I still have my key on me." 

He said, "All right, let's try it." We got down there, and the bus is still there, but there was all this soot and papers and everything still on the vehicle and inside. We were wearing or masks inside the vehicle. I was driving maybe three miles an hour, and everything is blowing all over the place, and we finally made it back, and the next thing you know, I had lieutenants and everybody telling me I was missing for nine hours. 

I called them. I spoke to them, but I guess in the chaos, nobody really knew where I was or what was going on, but I ended up making it back, and I'm all right. We still felt like -- I mean, I still feel like I didn't do enough. I know I did a lot.  

Q. A catastrophe like that, I don't think anybody can actually feel they did enough, you know, so much going on, so, you know. You were there for 25 hours. 

A. We were hands on the whole time. We were doing something, or we walked around or we were helping out where ever we could. We had those power bars that ended up making their way up. Next thing you know, I know people were having hot meals. I don't think I could have eaten at that time. I wasn't able to eat anyway for a long time. 

Q. We want to thank for you your cooperation in this. 

A. Thank you. 

MR. DUN: The time is 6:18, and that's going to be the end of interview. 

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