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The Entombed Man's Tale
Family: Wife and three children
Occupation: FDNY battalion chief
Was trapped in stairwell B when the north tower collapsed. He
and the 10 others with him were among the total of 14 who survived
Hello, my name is Jay Jonas. I was scheduled
to report in for work on Sept. 10th for the night tour. It was
a very stormy night. It rained very heavily that night. As a
matter of fact, we had a few responses let me backtrack
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I was not a battalion chief at the time. I was the captain of
Ladder Company 6, which is located in the Chinatown section
of Manhattan. On that night, we had two firefighters from another
company, Ladder Company 15, that were filling vacancies. They
were detailed into my firehouse for the night.
One of the fellows names is Scott Kopytko and the other
firefighters name was Doug Oelschlager. We had a good
time with him that night. We had quite a few runs with the storm.
I remember in particular we had one scaffolding collapse due
to the ground being undermined with the heavy rains around the
Manhattan Bridge. At that run, we worked with Engine Company
55, which was commanded by Lieutenant Pete Freund and Squad
18, which was commanded by Lieutenant Billy McGinn. Billy McGinn
was one of my former firemen when I was a lieutenant in Ladder
11 on the Lower East Side.
So it was a very stormy night. By the time 8 oclock rolled
around, I was getting cleaned up for the day tour, getting ready
for the day tour.
The morning of September 11th was stunning. it was a beautiful
day. There wasnt a cloud in the sky. It was almost as
if the heavy rains had cleansed the air. It was beautiful.
I was in the kitchen having a cup of coffee and a bowl of Wheaties
and I was talking to Scott Kopytko and Doug Oelschlager. They
had just gotten relieved by the incoming members of my company,
so they were just getting ready to leave. We shared a few jokes
with each other, and they left the firehouse.
So the members I had on duty even before the day tour started
were Michael Meldrun was my chauffeur, Matt Kamorowski was my
tillerman, Sal DAgostino was my roofman, Bill Butler was
my ironsman and Tom Falco was my canman.
About 8:43 in the morning, we heard what sounded like an airplane
and all of a sudden, we heard a very loud boom. We all kind
of looked at each other and said, What was that,
and ran out to the front of the firehouse. My house watchman
was yelling over the intercom, A plane just crashed. A
plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.
We came running out and I was looking at his eyes and his eyes
were as big as saucers.
I said, A plane just crashed?
He says, Yeah, a plane just crashed.
What kind of plane?
It was a big plane, that what it was.
I said, A commercial jet?
Yeah, a commercial jet.
All right, turn both companies out.
And as Im saying that, I can start to see the black smoke
come across Canal Street. We dont have a direct line of
sight to the World Trade Center at that time, but I know were
second-alarm units at the World Trade Center so I knew we werent
jumping the gun by going.
He turns out both companies. My office is right off the house
watch, right off the front of the firehouse. I start putting
on my bunker gear, in the office, and theres a firehouse
on Liberty Street, which is directly across the street from
No. 2 World Trade Center and I hear them on the radio. The officer
said, Transmit a third alarm and a 10-60 signal,
which is for a catastrophic incident like a plane crash or a
train crash. He says, A plane has just crashed into the
World Trade Center.
So I knew that this was going to be big.
We get on the apparatus, and we start pulling out the doorway,
heading west on Canal Street. As we climb up on Canal Street
over by the Manhattan Bridge, we get a panoramic view of Lower
Manhattan. What I could see was indescribable.
The pictures that I have seen and the videos that I have seen,
while theyve been very vivid in their images, dont
come close to capturing how horrible of a sight this really
was. There were large gaping holes in the upper floors of the
north tower of the World Trade Center, No. 1 World Trade Center.
There was smoke pushing out of every crevice on the upper floors.
Im looking at this scene and Im thinking, We
have 20 floors of fire. And how long did that
take for me to run from the kitchen, which is in the back of
the firehouse, to the front of the firehouse, have a short discussion
with my house watchman, tell him to turn the companies out,
put my bunker gear on, get on the firetruck and go maybe
it takes a minute, at best and Im looking at 20
floors of fire.
And each floor on the World Trade Center was roughly an acre,
so I was looking at 20 acres of fire, 90 floors above the street.
It was the most unbelievable sight I ever saw, up until that
I had been in some very busy units during my time in the fire
department. I broke in, in Engine 46 and Ladder 27 in the South
Bronx when the South Bronx was burning down. I was in Rescue
3, which was extremely busy; they covered the Bronx and Harlem.
And then as a lieutenant, I was in the Lower East Side when
that was burning down. As a captain, I was in Chinatown. I saw
some unbelievable fires in Chinatown.
What I saw pales in comparison to anything else I had seen previously.
So were responding. Were coming in over by City
Hall and trying to cross Broadway. Once we cross Broadway, were
going onto Vesey Street, which surrounds the World Trade Center.
Its the northernmost street on the block that houses the
World Trade Center.
As were trying to go across on Vesey Street, there are
hundreds and hundreds of people running the other way. Were
trying to weave our firetruck through the people to try to get
to West Street.
We finally get there and we park our firetruck right in front
of No. 1 World Trade Center. Needless to say, theres nothing
left of my old firetruck.
We start to take equipment off thats commensurate with
a highrise building assignment. And as were taking equipment
off the firetruck, pieces of the building are coming crashing
down around us. So we have to run back and forth. Theres
a walk bridge that crosses West Street, which connects the World
Financial Center with No. 1 World Trade Center.
We sought shelter under that a couple times in order to gather
all our equipment. We would look up to see if anything was falling
down. Wed run back to the firetruck to get what we had
to get and then we ran back. We had to do that three times.
Once we got everything assembled, we looked up and we waited
for a time where we didnt see anything falling. I looked
at everybody and I said, OK, ready, set, go. And
we ran to the front door of No. 1 World Trade Center, off the
West Street entrance.
Ironically, the New York City fire commissioner at that time
was Tom Von Essen and he ran in with us. He ran right alongside
first sight that we saw when we entered the building, there
were two badly burned people right at the front door of No.
1 World Trade Center. Your first impulse is to stop and help
them. We couldnt do that. There were other people that
were just, the EMTs, that were starting to show up and they
were going to take them, but it was kind of an awkward feeling.
Well, yeah, there are two badly burned people here, but there
are maybe a couple of thousand people that need our help upstairs,
so we had to make one of those judgment decisions just as were
entering the building.
How those people got burned was, they were in an elevator when
the plane hit. The vapors from the jet fuel are heavier than
air and they started working their way down throughout the building
and they ignited. They were trapped in an elevator and they
We were reporting to the lobby command post of the north tower
of the World Trade Center. Its a big console-like looking
place. Theyre able to answer all those telephones in elevators
and floor warden phones and theyre able to monitor where
smoke detectors are going off in the building. And thats
where we normally set up our operations. Thats where the
chief in command usually sets up.
By now there are a lot of companies reporting in. Im kind
of awaiting my turn to get my assignment for my company and
get my name recorded. I saw the captain of Ladder Company 3,
a man name Pat Brown, as I was about to report in and he says,
Jay, just come on upstairs. Theyre just going to
send you upstairs. I said, This is big. Let me get
my name on paper that Im here.
So Im standing at the lobby command post and Im
awaiting my orders. Rescue 1 arrives and the members of Rescue
1 are standing next to me. A good friend of mine, Gerry Nevins,
Captain Terry Hatton, Lieutenant Dennis Moyica, Fireman Dave
Weiss, they were all around me. Lieutenant Pete Freund from
Engine 55; he shows up right around that time. And were
waiting. Right now, the chiefs are overwhelmed. Theres
a lot of things happening. The fire commissioner has Chief Haydens
ear. Battalion Chief Joe Pfeiffer from the First Battalion is
juggling three phones. Hes trying to talk to people on
elevators and floor warden phones and things like that. Theyre
managing it and theyre handling it and I dont know
how theyre doing it, but they did an unbelievable job.
Just as its almost my turn to get order, we hear another
loud explosion and we werent sure what it was. We thought
that maybe a fuel cell on the plane blew up or something like
that. Were looking around and theres large glass
windows all around the lobby of No. 1 World Trade Center and
the glass had already been blown out before we got there on
a lot of those windows just from the sway of the building going
back and forth from the plane hit.
We could see large pieces of metal coming down and hitting the
ground. We were all kind of looking at each other, wondering
what that was. A man came running in from the outside and yelled
out that a second plane had just hit the second tower.
That radically changed the demeanor in the lobby as soon as
he said that. Right away, there was an eerie silence. We all
just kind of looked at each other and Gerry Nevins said, Were
going to be lucky if we survive this.
We all just kind of looked at each other, wished each other
good luck and gave each other a wink and a nod and then it was
my turn. It was my turn to get orders. I went up to Deputy Chief
Pete Hayden and I looked at him and said, You know a second
plane just hit the second tower? He says, Yeah,
I know. Just go upstairs and do the best you can.
All right chief, you got it.
I went to my guys who were standing remotely away from the command
post, and I went to them and said, OK. Heres the
deal. Were just going upstairs and were on a rescue
mission. Were just going to help out whoever needs help.
The bad part is we cant take the elevators. I thought
it was an unacceptable risk, remembering the badly burned people
inside, right by the building entrance.
So heres the deal. We gotta walk up 80 floors. And
its a raw deal. I know its bad, but this is what
Without hesitation they all said, OK, Cap, lets
go. Were with you.
And as were about ready to hit the stairs, I couldnt
help but wonder, wheres our air cover? Id never
been to a fire where I was wondering where the United States
Navy and where the United States Air Force were, that they would
be protecting us. And that was kind of an eerie feeling that
I was hoping that someone was watching our back as we were going
So we started our long trek up the stairs. These were two of
the biggest buildings in the world and they only had three stairways.
They had like 98 elevators to accommodate everybody going up
and down there with different sky lobbies and things like that,
but they only had three stairways, the A, B and C stairways,
and the B stairway is the only on that goes to ground. The A
and the C stairway go to a mezzanine which takes them into like
a concourse level where they have shops and things like that.
But the B stairway is the only one that goes directly to ground
so thats the one that we took. We started our long trek
up, up the stairs. Its not this big grandiose stairway,
either. Its about wide enough for two people to stand
side by side. Its just an average-size stairway. Its
wide enough for one row of firemen to be going up and one row
of civilians to be coming down. Theyre coming down on
my left and were going up on my right.
I cant say enough about the people that were in those
buildings. They were escaping from the worse catastrophe to
befall the United States in our generation and theyre
as calm as could be. As a matter of fact, as were going
up, theyre encouraging us. The sense of altruism that
was going on with them, every once in a while you would see
somebody was burned and they would be wearing somebody elses
sportscoat, that they would be covering them up, things like
Every floor right up the stairway had a vending machine with
a glass front, had those spiral things. It was refrigerated.
Every one of those was just loaded with bottles of water. They
were just breaking into those machines and giving us the water
as were going up the stairs, guys having little bottles
of water in their coats. When they felt that they had to take
a drink, they would.
My plan was with my guys was, look, we had to go up at least
80 floors before I thought that we would see anything that would
require us to go into action. So I said, Well take
10 floors at a time. Take 10 floors. Take a quick break. Get
a quick drink of water and press on to another 10. I felt
this way that we would have something left when we made it to
the 80th floor.
You have to realize what were wearing. Were wearing
about 100 pounds of gear between what we have on our bodies,
the pants, the boots and the coat, and we also have a hood thats
around our necks and our helmet. And then we have our air mask,
which weighs about 22 pounds, and the tools that were
carrying. Just the bunker gear alone, it doesnt allow
the perspiration to evaporate and cool down the body, so you
can get overheated. Thats why it was good if we stopped
every 10 floors and just replenish their fluids, and just keep
So we make our trek. We stop at the 10th floor. Somewhere between
the 10th and the 20th floor, we responded to a couple of Mayday
messages which are messages that a firefighter needs assistance.
They were firefighters who had chest pains. One was from Engine
9, one of the firefighters was from Squad 18. We made sure that
they were getting medical assistance and we pressed on.
We made it to the 27th floor and I was emphatic about trying
to keep everybody together. A highrise building is so big, its
easy for people to get separated and get lost and thats
not a good thing in those types of buildings, and this is the
biggest highrise building that we have in New York City. So
I said, Everybody must stay together.
And I got to the 27th floor and I started counting heads and
I only saw three heads. I said, All right. Lets
stop on the 27th floor. Wait here and Ill look for the
other two guys.
I go downstairs and I find them. They were separated from people
coming down the stairs.
Everybody got to the 27th floor. I said, All right. Everybody
take a knee, get some water. Well take a quick break here
and well press on and well go up to 40 on the next
On that floor along with all my guys was Fireman Andy Fredericks
from Squad 18 and Captain Billy Burke from Engine 21. Billy
Burke was another one of my fireman when I was a lieutenant
in Ladder 11. Andy Fredericks was a friend of mine. He was a
nationally know fire instructor. He was a very bright man.
They were all on the 27th floor with me doing the same thing,
catching their breath so that they could push on.
While we were on that floor, we felt and earthquake-like rumble.
Our tower swayed back and forth, and then the lights went out.
All day long you were wondering, now what was that. And we heard
something that almost sounded like another jet plane, it was
a loud whooshing sound. I looked at Billy Burke and he looks
at me and I said, Billy, you go check those windows and
Ill go check these windows and well see what we
So I ran to the north windows and all I could see was that white
dust pressed against the glass. He ran to the south windows
and we met up again at the stairway door at that little vestibule.
I look at him and said, Is that what I thought it was?
He said, The south tower just collapsed.
That was a difficult piece of information to process. In my
entire fire service career, I cant ever remember a highrise
building ever collapsing. And this was one of the biggest ones
in the world, a 110-story building coming down.
I said, I cant believe it. I thought about
it for a second and I looked at my guys and I said, OK,
its time for us to go home. Its time for us to leave.
At first, they were a little reluctant. I said, Were
going home. If that tower can go, this one can go. Its
time for us to get out of here.
So we start our evacuation with Billy Burke and Andy Fredericks
in tow. We start heading down the stairs. One of my firemen
had a lifesaving rope with him and he wanted to start jettisoning
some of his equipment. I said, No, bring everything. You
never know what were going to come aKross on our way down.
Bring everything with us.
We start heading down. I was a little nervous about doing that
because I didnt get a radio order to do it and that was
hard territory to get up to. I didnt want to take the
same territory twice.
Around the 20th floor I heard on the radio an order for everybody
to evacuate the north tower. And Ive seen on the videotapes
that they had ordered the evacuation of my building before the
south tower collapsed, but we didnt get it. Sometimes
in highrise buildings with the steel and the concrete and the
distance, communications are not good.
They did have procedures in place to overcome the communications
problems. They had repeator systems within the building and
everything, but they got wiped out when the plane hit, so we
were basically working on whatever power the radios were giving
We heard the call for the evacuation; that made me a little
bit more comfortable. It was around this time that we ran into
a woman in the doorway, a woman named Josephine Harris. She
was just standing in the doorway and she was crying. And one
of my firemen looked at me, a fireman named Tommy Falco, he
looks at me and he says, Hey, Cap, what do you want to
do with her? I said, We cant leave her here.
Bring her with us.
I had some guys who were very strong men. This guy Tommy Falco
was a big weightlifter; a man named Billy Butler is also one
of these guys who could play football today. Theyre very
big, strong men. I told Billy, Put her arm around yours
and well start going down the stairs.
But that did a couple of things to us. That greatly slowed our
descent. We want to stay together as a unit but now were
going one step at a time. Step by step. Were not going
step, step, step, step, step. Were going step...step...step,
like that. And its bottlenecking everybody behind us who
are trying to evacuate.
So on like three or four occasions we step to the side to allow
people to pass us so were not holding them up. And then
we continue our descent. The other firemen who were with us
from Ladder 6, they took Billys tools and we were going
down that way; we were staying together.
Somewhere around the 15th floor, I ran into a friend of mine,
Rich Picciotto, who was battalion chief in the 11th Battalion.
He and I studied together for years, but we rarely worked together.
As a matter of fact, I dont think weve ever worked
together because he works in the Upper West Side, I work in
Chinatown and it would have to be something this big for that
many units in Manhattan to converge on one spot.
He was wielding a bullhorn, which nobody ever brings a bullhorn
into a fire. But he was working at the World Trade Center bombing
in 1993. He was a newly promoted battalion chief back then and
he remembered he had a big crowdcontrol problem and he remember
to bring it. He says, Well, this might help.
He used that bullhorn to order firemen to leave the building.
That act alone probably saved a lot of firemens lives.
He probably was able to evacuate, at least that I know of, at
least a half a dozen companies. That was a very headsup move
on his part.
But again, it was unusual to see him there. So he starts evacuating
with us as well. On my way down, I saw a fireman that I know
whos a chiefs aide for the 2nd Battalion, a man
named Faustino Apostol. His nickname is Faust, for short. I
see him standing in the doorway off the stairway and I said,
Faust, cmon lets go. Its time to go.
Come with us.
Its OK, Cap, Im waitin for the chief.
His chief was on the floor and he didnt want to leave
I said, Dont wait too long.
He says, All right. Im coming.
Im seeing and hearing other acts of courage and heroism
on the way down. Im hearing Captain Paddy Brown from Ladder
3 saying that he has a lot of burned people on the 40th floor
and he doesnt want to leave them. I run into members of
Ladder Company 5 from Greenwich Village. Theres a Lieutenant
Mike Warchola, who I used to carpool with when I was a young
fireman. He and his company are working on a man on one of the
stairway landings whos having chest pains, a civilian.
I said, Mike, cmon, lets go. Its time
And he sees we have this woman that were bringing down.
He says, I know, Jay. Its time to go. Were
working on this guy. You have your civilian, I have mine. Well
be right behind you.
I said, All right. Dont wait too long.
So we continue on our way down. We get to the fourth floor.
Im starting to feel pretty good about things. Im
thinking, maybe this building isnt going to collapse.
Maybe were just going to go outside and this is gonna
to work out OK.
We get to the fourth floor and Josephine Harris legs give
way. She cant stand anymore. Now Im starting to
get nervous again. Weve got to move a lot faster. The
spooky music in this whole scenario is that the clock is ticking.
I can almost hear the clock ticking in the back of my head that
we gotta get out of here. This is bad. This is really bad.
I break into the fourth floor to look for a sturdy chair that
we can throw her on and we could pick her up and run with her.
That would be the fastest, to negotiate the stairway and make
our move that way. So I break into the fourth floor. Its
not an office floor. Its a mechanical equipment room floor.
Its where they have the airhandling equipment for that
Im looking and Im not finding anything. I find one
metal desk with a stenographers chair, a swivel chair,
and that wouldnt do. I find one overstuffed couch. Naturally,
that wouldnt do. Its a little scary to think about
it now, but I was way on the other side of the building, just
seconds before this building collapsed. And I dont know
what told me to do it but Im thinking, this isnt
working out. Ive gotta get back to the stairway and were
just going to have to drag her.
I start running back to the stairway and Im about four
feet away, four or five feet away from the stairway door and
thats when the collapse starts. I feel almost like a compression
effect with the wind. I try to open the door to the stairway
and I couldnt open it. A second pull opened the door.
I dont know whether it was assisted by the compression
effect of the building coming down with the wind or with my
first try, maybe the building was warping and twisting, and
I couldnt open it for that reason. But the second pull
I was able to open the door and I dove for the stairway landing
on the fourth floor.
Now, people have tried to get me to describe what it was like
while the collapse was happening. It was a montage of different
sounds and experiences. The sounds were a combination of sounds.
This building collapsed in whats called a pancake fashion.
In other words, one floor would hit another floor and would
collapse that floor and then collapse the next floor. And every
time a floor would hit another floor, it created a loud boom
and tremendous vibration.
The entire collapse of this 110-story building took 13 seconds.
So it sounded like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,
you know, like that. And every time that happened, it shook
the entire building. It shook the whole floor. So every time
a floor would hit another floor, wed be literally bouncing
off the floor. We were being thrown around the stairway.
There was also this very loud sound of twisting steel all around
our heads. These massive steel beams and girders were just being
twisted around our heads just like they were twist ties on a
loaf of bread. And a very loud, like a steel screeching sound,
almost like a lot of trains coming into a subway station at
the same time and all of them hitting their brakes at the same
There was tremendous air movement with the building coming down.
The air movement was so strong that one of my fireman was standing
on the fourth floor. Youve got to figure with his gear
and everything on, hes well over 200 pounds. Hes
about 180 pounds and with his gear, you gotta figure hes
about 250 pounds. This wind kind of picked him up and threw
him down two fights of stairs.
We were getting hit with all kinds of debris. Thank God it was
nothing that was going to really hurt us, but after it was all
over, it was almost like we kind of got mugged. We were all
bruised up and small cuts and things like that.
And then the collapse stopped.
In a day of first experiences for everybody, well heres
another one. I cant believe we just survived that. It
was very quick and during the collapse you couldnt help
but think that this is it. Its over. This is how it ends.
I kept waiting for that big beam to hit or that big piece of
concrete to come down and crush us.
It never came.
When it stopped, my first thought was oh, man, I cant
believe I just survived that. But then we were in a battle with
the dust and the smoke for a while. That big cloud of dust that
was surrounding lower Manhattan, I was in the middle of that.
I know exactly where Ground Zero was. It was the B stairway
of the north tower, thats exactly Ground Zero. Thats
the geographic center of that building. And I was in the middle
So we had no visibility. We had a very hard time breathing.
We were all coughing and gagging for a while. As soon as I was
able to talk, I wanted to see who was still alive, who was still
with me. So I gave a roll call and all my people were accounted
Josephine Harris was accounted for; she was alive. There was
a Port Authority police officer with us, a man named David Lim.
Rich Picciotto was with us; he was a floor below me. He was
on the third floor. We had on the base of the stairs, on the
second floor was Lieutenant Mickey Kross from Engine 16, and
there was a fireman from Engine 39 at the base of the stairs.
So initially there was 11 of us. There were three other firefighters
from Engine 39 that got out later that were separated from us
and they were the last firemen removed from the World Trade
Center, and they got out about two hours after we got out, I
think. But that was it.
We have no visibility. And I gave this roll call and saw who
was there. And were trying to comprehend how bad this
was. We knew we just experienced a catastrophic collapse.
But it was relatively quick. I even thought the collapse lasted
longer. Somebody asked me soon afterward, How long do
you think it lasted? I estimated about 30 seconds. I saw
on the tapes it was only 13. But it felt like it moved along
So I didnt think the entire building collapsed. I thought
maybe half of it came down, and the other half was still intact.
Again, with no visibility, you dont know. Were just
trying to let things settle out for a little.
A couple minutes after the collapse stopped, were starting
to get radio transmissions. The first one I hear was from a
fireman and he says, Just tell my wife and kids that I
love them. The second radio transmission I hear is from
Lieutenant Mike Warchola from Ladder 5, who I passed in the
stairway. He said, Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is the
officer of Ladder Company 5. Im in the B stairway on the
12th floor. Im trapped and Im hurt bad.
One of my guys, Sal DAgostino, looks at me and he says,
Cap, did you get that?
Yeah, I got it.
So I start heading up the stairs to see what I can do. Were
on the fourth floor, maybe I can do something for him.
Now, were seeing that our stairway is somewhat intact.
There were parts of it missing, some of its warped. Theres
a lot of debris in the stairway that we have to move in order
to move around the stairway. Parts of some landings were missing.
Its quasi-intact but its not a pristine stairway.
Its like a real bad vacant building stairway.
The landings were only good for maybe an eight-by-eight area.
There wasnt much left to every floor before you started
encountering immovable debris.
So I start heading up the stairway and in order to make my way
up the stairway, I have to move a lot of debris to get up the
stairs. I make it up to the fifth floor and I start heading
up toward the sixth floor and now the debris is getting very
heavy and I cant move it.
A second Mayday comes in from Mike Warchola. And then a third.
And I realize I cant move it. Theres nothing I can
do and I got on the radio and I said, Im sorry,
Mike, I cant help you.
That was a difficult thing for me to say, especially since I
knew him. There was just nothing that I could do for him. And
it wasnt until after I got out that I found out that the
12th floor didnt exist anymore. We thought that maybe
half the building was intact, maybe 50 floors were left.
So I felt a little more comfort in the fact that I really couldnt
get him, that he wasnt just that far away. His company
got thrown out and he was in the debris. He gave out his third
Mayday and that was the last we heard from Mike.
We were getting other Mayday messages in. We were getting a
Mayday message from Chief Prunty, Richard Prunty from the 2nd
Battalion, and he was trapped right around the lobby. He was
pinned and he was hurt bad. And every time we spoke to him,
we could hear him going deeper and deeper into shock. There
was nothing we could do for him.
This is very frustrating, now. Its not that were
in great shape, either, but none of us have any mortal injuries.
Were able to walk around. Like one of my fireman has a
concussion. One has a separated shoulder. One has badly bruised
ribs; we thought they were broken. Were all coughing,
gagging and our eyes are getting damaged. But nothing life-threatening.
But were hearing these calls for help coming in around
us and theres nothing we can do about it. That was a little
At this point, not really knowing what the full enormity of
this situation is, Im thinking that we can possibly dust
ourselves off and continue down and work our way out of the
building. Ive taken several rescue classes and Ive
taught classes on how to rescue other trapped firemen, so I
carry some specialized equipment that not everybody carries
in their coat pocket, and a lot of my guys did, too.
I told my guys to take out their one-inch tubular webbing and
they can make a harness out of that and put Josephine Harris
into this harness and were going to take her down the
stairs and were going to walk right out the front door.
My tillerman, Matt Kamorowski, was at the bottom of the stairs.
We start making our way down and he yells up, Dont
come down. There is no way out. There is no way you can get
past this. He got down to the landing between the first
and the second floor and he says, Thats it. Its
packed with debris. Theres no way we can get out.
I said, All right.
Now were trying to figure out what to do, thinking that
were probably going to be here for a little while now.
So we go into a little bit of a survival strategy, which Picciotto
initially yelled up the stairs for everyone to turn their radios
off so we can conserve our batteries.
I told my guys, OK, turn your radios off. And then
I got to thinking, wait a minute, hes on the command channel.
We have several different channels on the radio and the chiefs
are all ordered to go onto the command channel. I said, Ill
put my radio on the tactical channel and hell be giving
out Mayday messages on the command channel; Ill give them
out on the tactical channel. And thats what I did.
I put mine on the tactical channel.
I started giving out Mayday messages. It took a little while
for somebody to answer me, but I finally got an answer after
about 40 minutes. It was from Deputy Chief Tom Haring. He says,
OK, Ladder 6. I have you recorded. Youre in the
B stairway of the north tower. You have 11 people with you.
OK, were going to start sending people out.
OK, that made me feel good. They know were here. They
know were alive.
We start looking around for other things that we can do. In
my travels when I was looking for Mike Guarcola, on the way
back down, I saw that there was a toilet on the fifth floor.
Naturally, it wouldnt work. But if you have 11 people
in a stairway, somebodys going to have to go to the bathroom
sooner or later, so they could use the toilet and they we could
cover it up. At least we wouldnt be smelling human waste.
When youre in a confined space, any little comfort that
you can have is good. Nobody had to use it, but that was a good
One of my guys broke into, I think, the third floor and he found
some sprinkler piping. OK, thats good. We can break
into them when we get thirsty.
On my way back down on the fifth floor, I found Chief Picciottos
bullhorn in the rubble on the stairway, when I was moving rubble
on the stairway. So I handed that back down to him and later
on we used that to attract attention to ourselves.
We were almost playing a waiting game. And we were trying to
evaluate every move that we were making because we wanted it
to be a productive move. We didnt want to make a move
just to make a move. We didnt want to have to cover the
same territory twice.
I found a service elevator right off the fourth floor. The door
was warped and I could see down it and I could see that the
shaft was open down below. And I thought, theres a possibility
that we can rappel down the elevator shaft with out rope. We
got to thinking about it. I said, What if we cant
get in? My initial thought was we can rappel down this
elevator shaft and well come out in one of the subcellars
and we can walk through the Path tubes and well end up
in Hoboken. But we thought better of that. We thought wed
save that strategy for Day 2 or Day 3, when we start getting
We didnt talk too much. Everybody stayed quiet and they
were listening, more or less just trying to evaluate what we
were going to do. For the most part, everybody was calm. At
one point, Tom Falco, one of my firemen, looks at me and he
says, Hey, Cap, what do we do now?
I just looked at him. I dont know. Im making
this up as we go along.
While we were in the stairway, we could hear fires breaking
out around us. We could hear explosions. After one of the explosions
that was rather close, Josephine Harris started crying a little
bit and she said she was scared. The explosion shook me up a
little bit, too.
In the calmest voice I could muster, I said, Thats
all right, darling, were all a little scared. Just hang
in there. And from that point on, she barely said a word.
She knew that we were going to take care of her. The guys would
take turns comforting her. I didnt know about this until
later, but one of the guys said, If anything happens,
well cover you. Well use our bodies to shield you.
They told me about that later.
So it was a waiting game. We were trapped in there for over
three hours and it seemed like it was about 40 minutes. It seemed
like a short period of time, just because your mind was so active.
We were listening to other radio transmissions. We could hear
the captain of Rescue 3, Ralph Tiso, calling for a line because
he was getting trapped. He was looking for trapped firemen and
he says, There are fires breaking out. I have to get a
line so I can get out.
We could hear fires crackling. We didnt know it at the
time, but No. 7 World Trade Center and No. 5 World Trade Center
were immediately adjacent to us and they were roaring, they
were on fire. Those were the sounds that we were hearing.
The visibility in the stairway started clearing out pretty good
because there was no new dust coming in. Whatever dust was in
the stairway was starting to settle out. But we still couldnt
see outside. We had a small hole in the stairway and all I could
see was a wall of twisted steel.
We were thinking, geez, if we did have a major collapse, there
was 106 floors above us. This was a 110-story building. Were
on the fourth floor. It may take them a while to get to us,
We were waiting. And I started getting some productivity out
of my radio. I started making direct contact with people that
were looking for us. I hear a radio transmission from John Salka.
He goes, Battalion 1-8? Two out of six.
Where are you? Were coming to get you.
I would give my location. Were in the B stairway
of No. 1 World Trade Center. Im on the fourth floor in
Then I heard a man who lives down the block from me, who happened
to be with John Salka. I didnt know that at the time.
He said, Rescue 3 to Ladder 6. Captain Jay Jonas, this
is Cliff. Im coming to get you. Where are you?
I would give my whole transmission again. And then I got a radio
notification from a man name Nick Visconti, who was a longtime
friend of mine, and hes a deputy chief and one of the
most highly respected members of the fire department. But he
has a unique voice. I can pick out his voice right away. And
he was in charge of the Operations Post.
He started calling me. Operations Post to Ladder 6. Operations
Post to Ladder 6. Jay, where are you?
I would go through the whole thing. He was telling me later
that he was surrounded by people that were trying to get some
sort of landmark so that they would know where to start looking
for me. And again, I have no concept what it looks like outside.
So some of their transmissions are a little unique from my perspective
and Im sure my transmissions to them were rather unique.
He asked me, How did you get there. How did you get inside
the building? Where was your firetruck. Things like that.
We parked the firetruck on West Street, just south of
the north walk bridge.
He says, OK. How did you get into the building?
OK, we walked from West Street into the glass doors off
of West Street. To get to the B stairway, after you get through
the glass doors, make a right and then you make your first left
and the B stairway is on the left.
And Im thinking to myself, this is not that hard, gentlemen.
Again, not knowing what it looks like. And he had to ask me
several times. I wont put a number on it.
I heard one fireman on the radio saying, Wheres
the north tower?
And Im thinking to myself, wheres the north tower?
Im thinking to myself, its one of those big buildings
on the corner. Cmon. Its not that hard. Oh, were
in trouble if they dont even know where the north tower
So I was getting very good radio transmissions out to a lot
of different people and everybody I was talking to on the radio
was not only a very competent person, some of the best people
in the New York City Fire Department, but they were all personal
friends of mine. Like John Salka, we had been friends since
public school. Im godfather to one of his sons. Cliff
Stabner, he and I had been friends for years. Our kids are close.
Weve been good friends for a long time. Nick Visconti,
hes been almost like a mentor to me.
He came to my wedding. Battalion Chief Bill Blanche from the
1st Battalion. He used to be a captain of Engine 9, which shares
my old firehouse in Chinatown. And his son is assigned to Engine
9 right now. He called me on the radio. Hes trying to
get my pinpoint location. Hes asking me some very good
questions over the radio. This man is a colonel in the Marine
Corps Reserves, a very squared-away guy, very precise. He kind
of let the cat out of the bag. Its really bad out
here. Its gonna take a long time for us to get to you,
but were gonna get to you. I have the entire offduty platoon
of Ladder 11, Ladder 6 with me and were going to come
and get you.
I was able to tell the guys then, Theyre coming.
Its gonna be a while, but theyre coming. So we just
gotta be patient.
This is what was happening in the stairway. We were giving out
transmissions and taking care of Josephine and we had David
Lim with us, the Port Authority police officer. Hes a
K-9 police officer. His partners his dog. He was concerned
about his dog. He was making radio transmissions out on his
radio for somebody to check on his dog. Im sure the people
outside who he was talking to thought your dog is low priority
right now, you know, but it was his partner. So he was concerned
about his dog.
Thats what was going on. And right around the three-hour
mark, all of a sudden, a beam of sunshine hit the stairway.
I looked and said, Guys, there used to be 106 floors above
us and now Im seeing sunshine. Theyre like,
What? I said, Theres nothing above us.
That big building doesnt exist.
So that was a revelation to us. Then Chief Picciotto came up
the stairs and he said, Jay, thats it. Thats
our way out. I said, Rich, it probably is, but lets
just wait for a little more confirmation just so we know that
this is the right move again. We didnt want to make
a move just to make a move. We wanted it to be a productive
A short time later, maybe 10 minutes later, the smoke and dust
cleared to where we could see a little bit of a distance outside
the stairway, which was again a radical change for us. Off in
the distance we could see a fireman looking through the rubble.
OK, thats it. Thats our way out.
We decided that Rich Picciotto would be the first guy out of
the stairway. We had our rope with us and we tied him off on
the rope because it was a little treacherous going down and
if he fell, there was all kinds of sharp metal and everything.
We wanted to have a way that we could retrieve him. So thats
why we felt if we put him on the rope, that would be a good
way to go. We tied a special knot on a harness that if he fell,
it would act like a seat belt and it would lock off.
So we sent him out on the rope. He went out and he made contact
with this one fireman. He tied off his end and we tied off our
end. One by one, we started sending people out of the stairway.
I think the next person out was Matt Kamorowski. And then we
sent out David Lim and then Mickey Cross, then Fireman Bacon
from Engine 39. One by one, they started going out, to the point
that the only people that were left were me, Tom Falco and Sal
Sal DAgostino and Mike Meldrun had already gone out but
they had all stayed very close to Josephine during the entrapment.
Tommy Falco, again, looks at me and says, Cap, we cant
I said, Were not going to leave her. Were
going to wait till other rescuers come in and well transfer
her to them.
So thats what we did. We waited in the stairway until
Ladder 43 showed up, commanded by Lieutenant Glenn Rowan. They
came into the stairway and I started giving this Lieutenant
Rowan from Ladder 43 a briefing.
I said, All right. You have her. You have to take care
of her. She cant walk. She couldnt walk before the
collapse and now after lying on her side for all this time,
she cant walk at all.
Youre going to need a Stokes basket stretcher to
take her out and we dont have one. Youre going to
have to call to get one.
OK. You have Chief Prunty on the first floor. We havent
heard from him in about a half-hour. Hes bad. His situation
is very bad. So you gotta get to him right away.
He says, OK.
And I said, Some guys from Engine 39 that sound like theyre
OK, but theyre separated from us. Youll have to
move some debris to get them out.
He said, All right.
And I said, And you got Ladder 5 on the 12th floor in
the B stairway and we couldnt get to them, either.
And he looks at me like I got three heads.
I said, What?
And he didnt say anything.
So we introduced Josephine to the members of Ladder 43 and I
said, Theyre going to remove you now. Were
going to go. They have to get a special piece of equipment to
get you out, but youre going to be out of here very shortly.
So we left. We left the stairway. Sal left the stairway. He
had to kinda go down on the rope a little bit in order to get
out because it was elevated and you had to make your way down
across some debris. Then Tom Falco leaves the stairway. I wanted
to be the last one of our group out of the stairway just because
I dont want to have to go back, Ah, wheres
Tommy? I gotta go back and see where he is.
Tommy Falco leaves the stairway and then he comes back in. He
pokes his head in and he says, Hey, Cap, wait until you
get a load of this.
So I make my way up to the hole. I poke my head out and I couldnt
believe what I saw. I couldnt believe it.
The first thing I saw was that corner facade that was still
standing. And I was looking at it.
I said, I cant believe this. This is unbelievable.
That was about 14 stories high. And Im just looking at
it. It looked like New York City got bombed. At the same time,
No. 5 World Trade Center, No. 6 World Trade Center and No. 7
World Trade Center were roaring. They were on fire. And they
were right next to us. So we have all that smoke that were
We start making our way across. We start heading toward West
Street because we couldnt go east because of those fires.
So we started heading toward West Street. In the Customs
House, No. 6 World Trade Center which is right next to No. 1
World Trade Center, houses the New York Arsenal for the Secret
Service. Now the fire was reaching that arsenal and it was blowing
up as were going across. What were hearing is almost
gunshots and little explosions.
At this point, my guys are pretty well beat up. Ive tried
to explain their condition to people to before and I said, Well,
they responded to the biggest fire in the history of the world.
They cLimed up 27 floors in full bunker gear, and then they
experienced the collapse of a sister building to it, and then
they start heading down. They make a rescue. They survive a
collapse of their building. Theyre entrapped for three
hours, coughing and gagging the whole time and they have all
kinds of injuries. Other than that, theyre in great shape.
We start making our way west toward West Street. And the collapse
created like a three-story-deep trench due to the collapsing
cellars and things like that. It was naturally filled with all
kinds of debris so, in order to make our way across this steel
now, this steel is all coated with this dust that was
created from the concrete and all the furniture and everything
just being pulverized.
These are the biggest office buildings in the world and I didnt
see one desk or one chair or one phone, nothing. The only thing
you saw was steel, some reinforcing rods and this dust. Thats
all that was left. There was nothing that was recognizable,
no carpets, nothing like that.
But this dust coating is now an inch thick on this steel. And
it makes it very slippery. Its like if you put talcum
powder on something, it makes it slippery. So were making
deliberate steps working our way across the steel and theres
a lot of climbing up and down and youve got these fires
going off next to us.
We come across this trench. We had to go down this trench and
then up the hill on the other side. Im the last one and
Im encouraging the guys to keep moving. Cmon,
you gotta keep going. Were not out of this yet. Were
still in danger here. Youve got to keep going. Keep going.
And I kept encouraging them to keep going. And one by one, I
got to see my people go up over the hill, over the other side
of that trench. I didnt know it at the time, but that
was my last run, my last response as the captain of Ladder 6,
where I was the captain there for seven years. Usually your
last tour as an officer in a place, usually you buy the meals
and say your good-byes and everything.
In retrospect, Im looking back on that day now, that was
my last act as the captain of Ladder 6, was watching every one
of my guys make it up over that hill and get to the point where
they were going to be safe. I always felt that that was my job.
Above all else, make sure that I send them home. Im very
fortunate to be able to say that because a lot of times I cant,
not through any fault of their own but through the circumstances
of the day.
In order to make it up over the other side of that trench, people
were lowering down ropes to us. We were climbing up ropes. We
finally made it up.
We had to make our way through, past West Street, and this is
still all debris covered, debris filled, through the World Financial
Center, through the south side, over toward Liberty Street.
I started looking for the command post, and guys were saying,
Dont go to the command post. Go to an ambulance.
I said, No, you dont understand. I was talking to
a lot of people on the radio and theyre all coming to
get me. I dont want anybody getting hurt after Im
I finally make my way to the command post and there was a fire
department pumper on the street. There were two chiefs on top
of this pumper that were running the fire, standing on the roof
so that they could see. And one of them was Chief Hayden, the
man I received my orders from, and he was running the show.
The first chief I got a hold of was Jim DiDiminico, who was
standing next to him.
I said, Get Chief Hayden. Get Chief Hayden.
Theres hundreds of firemen now. Theres all kinds
of noise and heavy equipment, so its very loud. Im
standing at the base of a pumper. I finally get his attention
and he looks down, he looks down at me. I could see his eyes
start to well up a little bit. And he says, Jay, its
good to see you.
I just stood there and gave him a salute. I said, Its
good to be here.
And he said something like, Well, now youre going
to get promoted to battalion chief.
I said, Its going to be good to be around for that.
So I left. It was a very touching moment. I really enjoyed working
for him. Hes a very positive man, extremely knowledgeable.
It was an honor to work for him. I was happy to see that he
survived as well.
Then we make our way to the ambulances and started getting treatment,
mostly for our eyes, because our eyes were starting to burn
us now. They were just coated with debris. I saw people, when
we were making our way across the debris field, that didnt
recognize me. I was just so coated with dirt and debris.
I saw one guy as we were making our way out, because I didnt
know it at the time, but our transmissions were the only ones
that were out there. There was nobody else. All of a sudden,
he looked up and he saw my front piece and he says, Youre
the guys. Youre the guys from Ladder 6.
I said, Yeah, were the guys. Were going home.
That was a good moment, too.
So after we made our way to the ambulance, it was about a half-hour
later, we saw Josephine Harris come out in the stretcher. I
survived. All my men survived. And we have this small victory
that is within us that we brought somebody else out with us,
that somebody else survived because of what we did. Thats
one thing that were holding onto and cherishing a little
I think back to all the people that I saw that day, Jerry Nevins,
Pete Freund, Terry Hatton, Dennis Moyica, John Fischer, the
list goes on, Andy Fredericks, Billy Burke, none of them made
it. Almost everybody I saw that day perished. Out of all the
hundreds and hundreds of firemen, police officers and civilians
that were in that building when it collapsed, only 14 of us
We just happened to be in the right spot. There was nothing
magic about it. There was one pocket, one void and we happened
to be in it.
When we got out I thought to myself, we had a nice void. We
had a nice little pocket. Theres got to be hundreds of
them. Theres got to be a lot of people getting out of
here. I was very optimistic about that.
It took me about a week to come to the realization that maybe
nobody else is coming out. A good friend of ours, John McLoughlin,
a Port Authority police sergeant, was rescued the next day.
And he was the last person that was removed. Nobody else was
removed after John McLoughlin; he was rescued on the 12th, the
morning of the 12th.
So it took me about a week to figure out, this is it. I thought
there would be a lot more people, and I was shocked that there
The force that was generated by this collapse was monumental.
Ive spoken to people about this event before and I try
to put it in historical perspective for people:
Prior to September 11th, the New York City Fire Department in
136 years of existence lost 752 firemen in the line of duty.
During six years of bombing in World War II, the London Fire
Brigade lost about 400 people. Prior to September 11th, the
largest lifeloss the New York City Fire Department experienced
was 12 in one incident and that was in 1966. On September 11th,
we lost 343 people in 28 minutes. Thats an unbelievable
The death toll from the World Trade Center, I think the final
count is 2,823. That number includes 343 firemen, 23 New York
City Police officers, 37 Port Authority Police officers and
the people on the planes.
So considering that between the two buildings, 50,000 people
work in those two buildings, the death toll, as hard to accept
as it is, could have been much higher. A lot of people were
removed from that building through the efforts of the firemen
that were there.
I have my good days and bad. I feel bad about certain things
that happened. They bother me more than they should. Im
trying to normalize my life as best as I can after going through
such a traumatic thing. My wife is probably dealing with survivors
guilt more than I am. Shell see other wives of firemen
whose husbands didnt come home that day and shes
almost apologizing that I lived. Im very sorry.
My husband was in a bad spot, too. She feels guilty that
I made it and their husbands didnt make. Its an
awkward feeling for her to go through that.
I knew that we were doing what we were supposed to do. I just
happened to be in the right spot. Again, there was nothing magical
that I knew that somebody else didnt know. I was just
making the calls that I thought were the right calls at the
time, and it ended up being the right calls at the right time.
You think about different things that could have happened, which
could have radically changed things for me. If I didnt
abandon my search for that chair when I did, I wouldnt
be talking to you right now. If we chose not to step aside to
let other firemen pass us, and all those companies made it out,
by the way, which I felt very good about, because the last company
that we let pass us was Engine 28, which shared the firehouse
with me when I was a lieutenant, and I know that they made it
© 2002 Orange County Publications,
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Newspapers Inc., all rights reserved. An abridged version
of this transcript appeared in the Sept. 8, 2002, editions of
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