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Remembering Ladder 4, Engine 54

  • Published
  • By John Ring
  • 438th Air Expeditionary Wing
At the memorial service for firefighter Dennis Scauso Oct. 27, 2001, New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani called the efforts of the Fire Department of New York the "largest single rescue operation in the history of the United States."

The loss of 343 firefighters on Sept. 11, 2001, doesn't diminish that fact. Even though it was the single most disastrous day in the history of the fire service, thousands of lives were saved.

In October of that year, myself and two other firefighters went to New York City. We attended memorial services for several firefighters and worked at ground zero. We met and got to know the survivors of Ladder 4, Engine 54.

This is their story.

The fire station for Ladder 4, Engine 54, is located near Times Square just two blocks from the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Their motto is "Never Missed a Performance." On the morning of Sept. 11, there were 15 firefighters on duty and they responded to the site of the World Trade Center complex after the first airliner crashed into the north tower.

Upon arrival, they were tasked to help evacuate the tower. Advancing up the stairwell, they assisted countless victims outside the building with injuries ranging from lacerations to smoke inhalation to broken limbs.

On the 18th floor, Ladder 4, Engine 54, firefighters were given a new assignment. Virtually all 56 elevators in the tower were inoperable, many with trapped occupants inside. Their new task was to locate the elevators, force open the doors and free the occupants.

The small tools the firefighters carried were ineffective for the job. That's when Michael Lynch came up with the idea to get the Hurst tool, commonly known as the "Jaws of Life," to get the doors open. The Hurst tool is primarily used at vehicle accident scenes to pry open doors of wrecked cars and trucks. Lynch and his partner went down 18 stories, picked up the Hurst tool and the hydraulic pump, brought it back up and went to work.

And that's what they were doing when the tower collapsed.

Exactly six months later, the remains of Lynch and his partner were discovered with the Hurst tool at their side. Engine 54 was later found, 50' below grade. A firefighter crawled into the wrecked cab of the truck and the engine fired up amid cheers at ground zero.

Of the 15 firefighters that responded from Ladder 4, Engine 54, that day, only three survived.

On our last night in New York City at Jeremy's Ale House, I went outside for some air. Under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, the smell and unmistakable odor of the death and destruction just a few blocks away was prevalent. An FDNY firefighter came out to have a cigarette. "I heard you're in the military as a firefighter," he said.

"Do me a favor," he continued as he lit the cigarette. "When you go over there and see our jets take off to kill those people who did this, think about us. Promise me that."

Ten years later -- regardless of if it is Afghanistan or Iraq, regardless of if your job is maintenance, fuels, communication, vehicle maintenance, security or fire protection, all that wear the military uniform are meeting that promise and expectation of the first responders who died in the line of duty or saved lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

Never, ever forget.

Engine 54
Firefighter Jose Guadalupe
Firefighter Leonard Ragaglia
Firefighter Christopher Santora
Firefighter Paul Gill

Ladder 4
Captain David Wooley
Lieutenant Daniel O'Callaghan
Firefighter Joseph Angellini, Jr.
Firefighter Samuel Oitice
Firefighter Michael Haub
Firefighter John Tipping
Firefighter Michael Lynch
Firefighter Michael Brennan

Edistor's note -- John Ring is a retired firefighter for the City of Galesburg, Ill., and a retired Senior Master Sgt. with the 183rd Fighter Wing, Springfield, Illinois where he served as a fire chief. He is currently assigned to the 438th AEW as a fire protection planner.