is running. He is running up West Street in clunky knee-high rubber
boots that cut into the backs of his knees, in a bulky black-and-yellow
firefighter's coat, with a 30-pound air cylinder strapped to his
back, and Howie Scott is running faster than he ever has before
in his 39 years on this earth. Ten seconds ago, he was about to
step into 2 World Trade Center. For no reason, he glanced up. The
tower exploded. The whole freakin' thing exploded! Now Scott
is running from a black cloud of -- what? Ash? Soot?
A shrapnel storm of steel and glass and stone is smashing all
around him. A concrete boulder the size of a garbage truck thuds
into the ground. "John! John! John!" he is yelling as he
runs. John Ceriello, also from Squad 18, was standing right next
to him outside the building. Where is John?
Scott is diving. He sees a walkway and leaps for cover. He is flying
through the air as if something is pushing him, something more than
his adrenaline -- the force of the explosion? The hand of God? He
travels at least 50 feet in the air. As he hits the asphalt, the oxygen
tank delivers an iron punch to his lower back. Scott lands under the
walkway as 110 stories of pulverized office tower smack like an industrial
hailstorm, shredding and demolishing every car and storefront and
abandoned doughnut cart in sight. The walkway shields him from the
debris. The walkway saves his life.
After 30 seconds on the ground, Scott starts to save other people's
lives. He pulls his air mask back into place. He crawls, bumping
into -- what is this shit? It's too dark, just black, black,
black everywhere, to distinguish animal from mineral. It is weirdly
quiet. No sirens. No screams. There are people streaming out of
an undamaged building, dazed and staring. "Just go!" Scott yells.
"Don't even look! Just get out of here! Go! Go! Go!" Men in expensive
business suits coated in thick dust, women with bloody bare feet,
everyone is sprinting.
Scott runs, too. North again, he thinks. His back aches. His lungs
are heaving. He is picking up speed. He runs straight into a plate-glass
He fights not to lose consciousness. Must be the only damn
unbroken window, and it's nearly knocked him out! He gets up
again. There's some daylight. At least it appears to be daylight.
This time Scott walks. Up West Street, toward the daylight. He stops
when he arrives instead at the edge of the Hudson River. Holy
shit, he thinks. Where the hell am I?
Scott slowly picks his way back toward the improvised command center
at the corner of West and Vesey. There's supposed to be a main gas
line over there, underneath Battery Park City; everyone is being
herded clear. The chiefs are getting a little control over the situation
now. They're formulating a plan . . . then BOOM! The second
tower comes down. It sounds like when a pilot lowers the hammer
for takeoff, Scott thinks. The first one, we had time to
react, we had a moment to make a move. This one? Anyone there got
crushed. Holy Christ.
Now all the radios are out. Bosses are talking about sending firefighters
back in, but among the men there's a lot of skepticism: "Is there
"Is anything else coming down?"
"Did they wire this building?"
Figures are emerging like apparitions, stumbling. Firefighters
are hugging as they recognize fellow survivors. Scott doesn't see
anyone from Squad 18. Where's John? Where is Timmy Haskell, who
wouldn't wait for Scott to finish getting dressed and roared off
from their Lafayette Street firehouse in the Hazmat truck? Where
is Eric Allen, the guy everyone ragged about collecting old junk?
Where is Manny Mojica, the Harley-riding Puerto Rican from Astoria
with biceps like an NFL lineman's?
Scott's eyes are burning. He knows rubbing them is the worst thing
to do, that more of the black gunk will get in his eyes, but he
can't help it. Suddenly, thankfully, a familiar face materializes,
alive, out of the gloom. It's Larry Cohen. He was scheduled to be
working this shift, but Scott had asked to trade. Larry was at home
upstate when he got the call. He raced across the Tappan Zee, stopped
off at special-operations command on Roosevelt Island, then continued
On his way into the city, Cohen picked up Joe Downey, a Squad
18 captain and son of Ray Downey, chief of special operations. In
1995, Ray Downey had been dispatched to Oklahoma City to help direct
rescue efforts after the bombing; in 1998, he'd pushed the FDNY
to create units with extra training in terrorism response, particularly
in anticipation of the millennium. One of those units was Squad
the World Trade Center has fallen on God, and Jesus is searching