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Moving on after loss

Posted
Maspeth firefighters lost in rescue efforts Sept 11.
Squad 288

Peter Brennan - Hauppauge
Ronnie Gies - Merrick
Joseph Hunter - South Hempstead
Jonathon Ielpi - Great Neck
Lt. Ronald Kerwin - Levittown
Adam Rand - Bellmore
Brian Sweeney - Merrick
Timothy Welty - Yonkers
      

Hazardous Materials Company One

Dennis Carey -Wantagh
Lt. John Crisci - Holbrook
Martin Demeo - Farmingville
Chief John Fanning - West Hempstead
Thomas Gardner - Oceanside
Jeffrey Giordano - Newburgh
Jonathon Hohmann - Staten Island
Capt. Thomas Moody - Stony Brook
Dennis Scauso - Dix Hills
Kevin Smith - Mastic
Capt. Patrick Waters - Glendale


A survivor's story
World Trade Center attack, a first-person account
By Anthony
(Editor's Note:) Among 20 members of Squad 288 and Hazardous Materials Company One in Maspeth, Queens who were called to the Twin Towers Sept. 11, Anthony of the Bronx is the only survivor. He did not wish to be identified by his last name.

      The morning of Sept. 11, I was due to get off my 24-hour shift in 15 minutes, when one of our now missing firefighters was looking at the New York City skyline and yelled to all of us in the firehouse that a plane just hit the Trade Center. Nobody believed him, so we went outside to call his bluff. We all looked and could not believe it.
      Within a minute, 14 members were responding on three fire trucks to Manhattan. We made it down to Manhattan from Queens in 28 minutes during rush hour -- about 40 minutes before the South Tower collapsed.
      My job that morning was the resource man, a position hated the most in our house. The job entails getting additional equipment warmed up and ready, communications, obtaining information, processing it and being ready. While I was preparing things on the truck, other members of my unit headed across the street to the command post for orders.
      Our fire trucks were left within 300 feet of the North Tower, and I made the decision to move both of our trucks one block north up the West Side Highway, just north of Vesey Street, a move which saved my life and possibly the lives of some police officers.
      After repositioning the last truck, I could not help but stand motionless, which seemed like forever, staring up at the North Tower and watching people free-falling from 100 stories up, knowing that they were not going to survive. The department's first member died by a jumper.
      I was distracted by this roaring sound, which got louder and louder, which I thought was another plane picking up speed before crashing into one of the Towers. Next thing you know, there is this plume of white smoke and debris heading up the West Side Highway along with debris falling from the sky. I just thought it was the aftermath of the explosion of another plane, but it was not a plane that made that roaring sound. It was the sound of the South Tower collapsing.
      I ran into the truck along with a few police officers to try and protect the special equipment located in the resource area of the truck. As I looked out the window, I could not see anything but a white cloud, which seemed like it took forever to clear up. Just when I was able to see something outside the window other than white dust, we emerged from the truck, and everything was covered just like it snowed.
      As people were getting their composure back, the North Tower came down. This was the scariest one because I could see it coming down, whereas the South Tower I could not see. As I saw the antenna on the North Tower along with the top floors coming down, it dawned on me that I was way too close and jumped back into the fire truck.
      Now alone and looking out the front window, I could see this massive cloud coming my way, I just stood there, frozen, thinking of the best place to be in the truck for structural support, as I waited for a large piece of the Tower to land on me. The truck shook, and when I looked out the window, it seemed like I was in a snow blizzard at night. I saw rolling clouds of white stuff and debris going by and heard things landing on top of the truck.
      When I left the truck, it looked like a total war zone from another part of the world. Everything was totally covered in inches and inches of white dust, and millions of pieces of paper were all over the place. Fire trucks, including the one I was in, were on fire. There were spot fires going on all around, along with people down and people running as fast as they could.
      I could not communicate with any members from my company from that time on. Even though I knew they were either in the Tower, just outside the Tower or at the command post, the thought that they were dead did not come to mind at that time. You never really think it would or will happen to you or your own members.
      The search began, and for the next 32 hours climbing, breathing, working in that environment was truly an experience. There were firefighters coming over to me and telling me that I was on "the list" of those missing and feared dead. Those were humbling moments. I am truly grateful and happy to be alive and sorry for those who had to suffer before they died.
      Wednesday night, I was relieved from duty, and as I was driving out of the "war zone" in our Mack fire truck that looked like it went through hell, there were New Yorkers cheering and holding up signs that said "Thank you", "You are heroes," standing alongside of the West Side Highway.
      [That was] a site that finally brought some tears to my eyes, and reality finally set in.



Auction to benefit WTC victims

      Empire Hose Company 3 in Merrick will host an auction Sunday, Nov. 11 to benefit the families of Merrick and Bellmore's fallen heroes who died in terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, including: Ronnie Gies and Brian Sweeney, both Merrick volunteer and New York City firefighters who served with Squad 288 in Maspeth, Queens; and Kevin Prior of New York City Squad 252 and Adam Rand of Squad 288, both of whom volunteered with the Bellmore Fire Department.
      Outback Steakhouse of Merrick is providing the food. There will be silent and Chinese auctions, door prizes and a Wall of Support.
      Cost is $35 per person, which includes dinner, program and door-prize ticket. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Auction starts at 5:30 p.m.
      To reserve a seat, call (516) 816-6534, or e-mail to fdbenefitauction@yahoo.com. Empire Hose Company 3 is at 2300 Merrick Ave., across from the Merrick Public Library.


Moving on after loss
Firefighters from Maspeth, Queens company rebuild after losing 19 members in terror attacks
      For New York City firefighters in special-operations Squad 288 and Hazardous Materials Company One, a joint unit in Maspeth, Queens, not only did the Twin Towers fall on Sept. 11, so did 19 of their members, two of whom were from Merrick, one from Bellmore.
      Only one firefighter on duty from the unit that day, Anthony, 36, survived to speak of the terror attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center. Anthony of the Bronx, who did not wish to be identified by his last name, says his wild, horrific story is tame compared to those who were trapped inside the Towers when they fell. (See shaded box, "A survivor's story.")
      Among the thousands inside the Towers were Squad 288 members Ronnie Gies and Brian Sweeney of Merrick and Adam Rand of Bellmore, all of whom perished.
      As the weeks since Sept. 11 are slowly turning into months, men in the Maspeth unit now say they are returning to more normal routines, but they will never forget the terrible events of Sept. 11.
      "It's tough to deal with," said Squad 288 firefighter Matt Neary, 32, of Merrick. "It's hard to come to work when we're missing so many guys. We lived with these guys. One minute, you drink coffee with a guy, the next minute you're crawling down a hall with them.
      "You eat with them, sleep with them, your kids play together. The bond that we have is unmatched. Every day, I walk through the doors and think of the guys we lost, and that won't go away."
      Squad 288, which rests off the service road of the Long Island Expressway in Maspeth, opened in May 1998 as an addition to the already-existing Hazardous Materials Company One. Seven of the eight Squad 288 members lost since Sept. 11 helped found the unit.
      The men were known as a proud mix of enthusiastic, high-energy firefighters whose extensive knowledge and training in confined-space and high-level rescues, as well as hazardous materials, set them apart. Working 24-hour shifts while living out of the firehouse brought them together like family.
      "This house is very tight," said Squad 288 firefighter Sal Miccio, 32, of Northport. "They all went through their initial training together. It is by far the closest unit I've ever seen."
      Since Sept. 11, each family of the unit's 19 missing has had one firefighter from the house who was closest to the lost member help arrange memorials and transportation and give general support for the children and wives, Miccio said.
      Squad 288 Capt. Dennis Murphy of Bellmore said the hardest part of his job has been working with the families to get them the information they need and acting as a source of comfort. Having to inform families that remains of a firefighter's body were found after a memorial service is perhaps the most trying, Murphy said.
      With the loss of so many men, firefighters in the Maspeth unit have gone from working 24-hour-on, 72-hour-off shifts to 24-hour-on, 48-hour-off shifts. And finding new firefighters for the company won't be easy. Since the Maspeth unit handles special operations, members need highly specialized training, which new recruits simply do not have. Firefighters need to be pulled from their current departments, and when a department loses a couple of men as so many have, the last thing a firefighter wants to do is leave the department, Murphy said. Right now, 10 firefighters are training to join Squad 288 in the near future.
      Fortunately, the Maspeth unit has found tremendous community support. Since the attacks, people have left written messages, posters and flowers outside the firehouse, and neighbors have brought food to the department and made sure the men have all they need. More than than $27,000 was also donated for the victims' families.
      Additionally, Squad 288 firefighter John Larocchia of Bellmore is to hold a comedy-show fundraiser on Sunday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at Governors in Levittown. All money raised will go to the Maspeth unit's victims' family fund (see Stepping Out, page 27).
      Owing to the multitude of work to be done daily, the Maspeth men have not had time to gather together and reflect on the tragedy. They are too focused on the immediate tasks at hand, Murphy said. The men still go down to ground zero to help with the cleanup, which seems a never-ending job, he said.
      Some of the men in the Maspeth unit said they have conflicting emotions when trying to deal with the deaths of so many fellow firefighters.
      "At the same time, I feel guilty and lucky," said Miccio. "Why was it them? If it happened the next day, it would have just been another set of guys."
      ITAL Nicole Falco contributed to this story. UNITAL