Engine 219 had a few runs in Brooklyn after the first plane hit. Like other Brooklyn companies, the call came seconds after the second plane strike. As they headed to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, E219 was diverted to a reported fire in the 37-story Williamsburg Bank Building in downtown Brooklyn. Turned out to be a false alarm generated by all the smoke coming in from Manhattan. They headed back towards the WTC and just as they were about to emerge from the tunnel, everything went black. They thought the tunnel had been hit and were expecting water any second. Inside the tunnel was a radio blackout. After five minutes or so it cleared enough that Lt. Scott Maxwell could guide the chauffeur the remaining distance out. The ruins of the South Tower were just ahead. This story is the one he tells from “In Their Own Words.”
They parked their rig along the perimeter. Everything closer was flattened. Grabbing their gear and spare air, they headed north against the flow of people running away. They saw Ladder 113 on fire. They saw people still jumping from the North Tower, and then saw it just “start to peel away. We dove under a rig. It took five seconds for the debris to hit. Everybody was quiet. I had the feeling I was going to die…. It was a strange feeling. The chauffeur said ‘pray.’” They survived. In time it cleared enough to move again. After getting around the collapsed south pedestrian bridge, Engine 219 eventually connected with a hoseline and spent the rest of the day “trying to do what we could with it.” Water was being brought in via fire boats from the river. “When Building 7 collapsed, everybody ran away. Another dust cloud appeared. I said here it comes! Everything turned black again. Then the dust settled. It was strange to see people react. You were a collapse veteran trudging along doing your thing. I spent the whole night there. We were sent on missions all night.” Their firehouse brothers, the recalled members of Ladder 105 found their rig and worked through the night to uncover it. I don’t think anyone who rode to the fire on that truck was ever found.
For Engine 219, that last second call to the fire that didn’t exist probably saved all their lives.