“Hey Ladder 15, we got two isolated pockets of fire. We should be able to knock it down with two lines. Radio that. 78th floor, South Tower. Numerous 10-45 code ones.” — FDNY Battalion 7 Chief Orio Palmer to Ladder 15 Lieutenant Joseph Leavey, 9:55 a.m., September 11, 2001
At 9:03 a.m., on 9/11, terrorists crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center’s South Tower. Four minutes later, the FDNY’s Battalion 7 Chief, his aide, and five firefighters from Ladder 15 — led by my wife’s brother — arrived in that tower’s lobby. While a FDNY City-Wide Tour Commander set up the command post there, a Deputy Chief (4 Bravo) moved from there to Tower 2’s staging area at West and Liberty Streets and the Battalion 7 Chief attempted to establish communications with the Battalion 1 Chief at the command post in the North Tower.
Battalion 7, his aide, and the five members of Ladder 15 then used a working service elevator that they had found and proceeded to the 40th floor. Their mission was to reach the fire floor, report on the situation there, and begin to direct the deployment of the additional units. This initial audio is of those firefighters, beginning at 9:07 and running through approximately 9:19 a.m. [Note: I have removed the ‘open air’ (the periods when no transmissions were made), extraneous transmissions, and several actual calls from within the South Tower from these audio recordings]:
Once they all reached the 40th floor, they began the ascent, with each carrying 60 to 80 pounds of gear. While climbing, they received a report of a way to those trapped above the fire floor from the “Director of Morgan Stanley” whom is believed to have actually been Morgan Stanley’s head of security. Ladder 15 also received a report of another plane (probably while monitoring other radio channels). Additional units began arriving on the 40th floor. This audio runs from approximately 9:21 to 9:35 a.m.
They encountered the injured and directed them to the elevator. The following are brief excerpts from the New York Times’ Accounts from the South Tower, beginning on page 9, as published on May 26, 2002: [Also see this USAToday report, September 3, 2002.]
Judy Wein, survivor: Gigi [Singer] and Judy, along with a man she had never before met [Ed Nicholls, also of Aon, who is interviewed separately] headed into the stairs. One at a time they moved down. Judy moved quickly down the stairs, so fast that she left Gigi at times behind her, one or two flights. Gigi would yell out Judy’s name on occasion, Judy announcing the floor numbers as they went down, 60, 55, 53. It was somewhere in the 50s that they encountered the first firefighter, she said. They were moving in small packs, carrying a load of heavy equipment, which clearly slowed them down. She told them that there were many injured people on the 78th floor, please help them. And they continued up. They told her to keep going down to the 40th floor, where there was an elevator bank. Her legs were trembling by the time she got there. She encountered two security guards and a firefighter, they told her to calm down. Not to rush. Take her time. But Judy just wanted to get out. An elevator came. Within another 10 minutes, they were outside. She was in the ambulance. The door was closed. She heard a noise. She turned to look. The south tower was coming down.
Ling Young, survivor: At the 51st floor, she met two firemen, and one of them decided to go down with her. She wasn’t aware of the fact that he had joined her until they got to the 40th floor, when he told her they could take the service elevator the rest of the way. She got out to Church Street, where she was placed in an ambulance. Moments after the ambulance pulled away to take her to a hospital, the tower she had been in fell to the ground.
Ed Nicholls, survivor: “These two guys came over. They were trying to figure out, because the fire was getting so bad. We knew we had to get out of there.” “The fire was not too far from us. We were watching it burn. It was decided between these two guys, one of them said, `Lets go back over to the other side where they came from.’ He thought that might be the best way to get down.” The other guy said “No, I don’t think so, I think there is a stairway over here. At this point it was getting very smoky.” One of those men pointed to the stairwell. [Other accounts say this man was wearing a red handkerchief] This was to be the route to safety. “And then the three of us, myself, Gigi and Judy headed toward that stairwell and started to go down the stairs.”
They continued to climb, attempted to find an elevator that terminated below the fire, and relayed to each other what they saw and who they found. More firefighters came up on their radio channel and, along with at least one NYPD Emergency Services Unit, were coming up the stairs behind them to assist. This audio runs from 9:37 a.m. to 9:50 a.m., approximately:
They reached the fire floor, witnessed the devastation, fought fires, found the way to those trapped above, and called for more units. This audio begins about 9:52 a.m:
The audio went silent at 9:59 a.m., when the South Tower collapsed.
We will never forget.
Editor — To view individual tributes to those killed, please visit Legacy.com.
Originally posted September 9, 2007.