New York Daily News

September 12, 2001

Hundreds Dead Among Finest and the Bravest

Rescuers become victims as toll is worst in the departments' history

By BOB KAPPSTATTER
Daily News Staff Writer

M ore than 300 firefighters and several dozen police officers perished yesterday under the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center — the worst single day's loss of life in the history of the city's uniformed forces.

An estimated 300 firefighters, including high-ranking members of the department, were killed, along with more than 33 police officers, city officials said last night. A number of Port Authority cops also were missing.

Members of several fire companies were inside 1 World Trade Center responding to frantic phone calls from trapped workers when it collapsed.

Among the confirmed dead were First Deputy Fire Commissioner William Feehan, Chief of Department Peter Ganci and Chief of Special Operations Raymond Downey, who was in charge of the FDNY's contingent that helped Oklahoma City authorities deal with the aftermath of the bombing of the federal building there.

Feehan and Ganci were killed by falling debris as they directed rescue efforts. Feehan had more than 40 years on the job and had served as acting fire commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins.

"We've undergone tremendous loses, and we're going to grieve for them horribly," said Mayor Giuliani. But the mayor said he could not provide an exact body count.

Moments after the first tower collapsed, frustrated dispatchers had to listen to the mournful, desperate radioed pleas of one injured cop entombed in the rubble.

Firefighters slammed their helmets to the ground in disgust, anger and tears as the losses sank in.

At one point, several firefighters waiting on Reade St. to enter one of the towers asked the Rev. George Rogers, an Episcopal priest from General Theological Seminary in Chelsea, to hear their confession.

"My heart is broken. My heart bleeds for everybody in there," said a weary, tearful Firefighter Mike Miraglia, 35, of Truck 24, his face black with soot.

Miraglia had just finished searching — in vain — for two firefighters from Truck 231 who were buried alive in the rubble.

Edward Cardinal Egan — who administered last rites to a dozen victims — said the firefighters and police were "dead in great numbers."

One of the fallen heroes was a Fire Department chaplain, the Rev. Mychal Judge, known throughout the service as Father Mike. For years, Judge had comforted the families and colleagues of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

"Just yesterday, Father Judge gave a homily where he implored people to enjoy every day of their lives," said another fire chaplain, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik.

As office workers fled 1 World Trade Center, they marveled at the dedication of New York's Bravest as firefighters ascended past them in the stairwell.

"We prayed for all the firefighters we know were gone. We saw them coming up the stairs as we were going down," said Wanda Torres, 46, who worked for Dun & Bradstreet on the 14th floor of 1 World Trade Center.

Emergency Medical Technician Benjamin Fogel was one of the lucky ones, suffering only a broken right leg and a huge gash on his head.

Fogel, 28, of Brooklyn, who normally works out of Queens, was at a staging area getting ready to enter the north tower when the building collapsed.

Debris knocked his helmet off as he and other rescue workers ran to escape.

"I saw a human hand on the street. We had to try not to step on body parts," he said from a gurney in the emergency room at NYU Downtown Hospital, blocks from the devastation.

"Guys I worked with for 30 years are gone," said Richard Sheirer, director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management. "It's just a tragedy of enormous proportions. How can anybody be so cold and calculating?"