First-Person Account: Alan DeRosa, Hazardous Materials Officer, East Rutherford (NJ) Fire Department
When the six of us–a captain, a lieutenant, three firefighters, and I, a hazardous materials officer-arrived in a basic life support ambulance at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, we were initially overwhelmed by the scope of the destruction. For the moment, it was hard to imagine how anything we could do would make a difference. However, we quickly recovered.
One of our firefighters, Dennis Taormina, Jr., worked on the 92nd floor of the World Trade Center and is among the missing. Ironically, he served as the fire warden for his floor.
We left the ambulance with a contingent of medical personnel for their use and proceeded in our turnout gear to the site. At Westside Avenue and Vesey Street, we were directed by a FDNY officer to establish a water supply for fires burning in the Verizon Building-one on the sixth floor and two in the basement.
Because the pressure in the area hydrants was negligible, we stretched a 500-foot 3 1/2-inch line from a marine unit in the river to FDNY Engine 84. We then stretched another 3 1/2-inch line across Westside Avenue to Engine 39 and fed Engine 50 and Truck 163 behind the Verizon building. We staffed the engines while FDNY firefighters extinguished the fires.
We then moved to the American Express building site to assist with search operations, digging by hand. All we recovered were fragments of body parts, which we tagged and bagged. We dug down to the major beams and steel girders, which had to be removed by heavy construction equipment.
We moved to the South Tower site to help search operations there. The work was interrupted by the threat of a collapse of the 1 Liberty Street building. We were able to resume work after about an hour. Once relieved from this duty, we established a 2 1/2-inch line for rescuers to use to put out fires in the piles of debris in which they were digging (on Vesey Street, between the North Tower and the Verizon building).
There is a vast difference in viewing the disaster scene in newspaper photos and on television screens. There were eight- to 10-story-high piles of rubble that appeared to be never-ending. They stretched for at least five blocks in every direction. We were on the scene for 12 hours.