September 11th, 2008
06:49 PM ET

Remembering my 343 FDNY brothers

Editor's Note: We are devoting many posts today to the anniversary of 9/11, with first-hand accounts, insight, and commentary dedicated to that day seven years ago that changed our world. FDNY Battalion Chief Tom Narbutt shares his experience from 9/11. Off-duty at the time, Tom made the treck to New York, arriving on the scene shortly after the collapse of both towers:
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Tom Narbutt
FDNY Battalion Chief (Ret.)

As I was responding to the emergency at the World Trade Center, I knew that a catastrophic event had occurred. But it was not until I actually arrived that I realized what had occurred. The scene was surreal. I could suddenly understand what it must have been like during the Lodon Blitz in World War II.

After I arrived at the Command Post set up near the site and was sent over to 7 World Trade Center to get a progress report from the Chief in Command. '7 WTC' ' was the location of the Mayor’s Emergency Command Center.

I will never forget that walk. It felt like I was walking on sand at the beach; The concrete was pulverized into fine granular pieces. What also surprised me was the lack of furniture in the rubble. No office equipment or anything else to be found... Just steel and papers.

Another thing that struck me; The firehouse across the street from the collapse, Engine 10 and Ladder 10, had only a minimal amount of damage.

When I arrived at 7 WTC the Chief was evacuating all fire personnel from the area. The fire had gotten pretty intense in this building from collateral damage it recieved. Before I could even get situated, the building began to sucumb... and a short time later, 7 WTC collapsed... but without the loss of life.

I never ran so fast in my life.

After 40 years with the FDNY, I saw many names of men I had worked with and people I knew: Deputy Comm. Bill Feehan, whom I went to 'Proby school' with.... Chief Tom DeAngelis from Batallion 8... Capt. Frank Callahan of Ladder 35...the list goes on.

After working well into the night, we made it back to Queens to rest, regroup, and return to the site.

When I went back the next day, I made my way up Liberty Street... and thats when I saw it. They antenna from the roof of the North Tower. Standing perfectly straight in the middle of everything. Like it just came straight down from the top.

It took a few days to realize that we lost 343 members. In my years in the FDNY I was assigned to Ladder 12 as a Firefighter, Ladder 35 as a Lieutenant, and Ladder 105 as a Captain. All had lost members, many I had met and one point or another...

...but I have a list of names and pictures of all 343 hanging in my home.

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Last week coming home from Baton Rouge after the Gustav evacuation we saw a New York City Fire Department truck on the highway coming to help. It speaks volumes about the people you are, the way you see we are all Americans first and our differences second, and the example your actions set for the rest of the nation. Thanks for all you did on that day you lost so much. Thanks for all you do today.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:30 pm |
  2. keith

    I would like to think that the problems of faulty communication equipment has been resolved. If I recall correctly, I may be wrong, but were there not times when some of the agencies that responded could not communicate with each other.

    I will never forget the heroism of the NYFD on that day nor any other day when they are going out on a call and I can only pray that they return home safely to their families.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:10 pm |
  3. Melissa

    The most indelible image I have of 9/11 is that of a lone firefighter in full rig standing ankle-deep in a sea of papers, looking up at the sky. That image will stay with me forever–it was just a brief flash on TV but I wish I could find it somewhere.

    God bless the FDNY, the NYPD, and all of those who put their lives on the line that day to help.

    "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." –John 11: 25-26

    September 11, 2008 at 8:04 pm |
  4. Jennifer

    I was on my way to work when this tragic day occurred. I remember listening to the radio and thinking, what happened? When I came into work everyone in the office was listening and had the pictures on their computers from newscasters filming as it all came to an end. I remember going through so many different emotions, first I was in shock, then I was angry and then sad. I went to a memorial that a local church did a week after it happened. I stood their listening to the pastor speak and I just cried. I feel that we have proved nothing fighting in Iraq. All we have done is lost our own in battle for no good reason. The difference between us and them is we live and fight for our country, they live to die for theirs and at no thought take others with them.

    I want to pay my respects to those who lost and to those who helped and rememberd. Nothing will ever erase that day 7 years ago. All we can do is go forward with out heads held high.

    September 11, 2008 at 3:47 pm |
  5. Norm

    To the 9-11 firefighters and the firefighters across our nation, you are the true American heroes.
    What you do takes the sort of courage that is not present in any other profession.
    Thank you for standing in there!

    September 11, 2008 at 3:39 pm |
  6. Scott

    It's hard to believe that it's been 7 years since that horrific day. A day that changed the way people look at life. I spent 3 weeks at Ground Zero on the "bucket brigade". Not a day passes that I forget what I experienced.

    I lost 343 of my "brothers" that day and you guys will never be forgotten.

    I agree that time ease emotions but it will never heal the pain.

    God Bless America and the FDNY and all others that came to our aid in the time of need.

    September 11, 2008 at 2:42 pm |
  7. Merin

    Thank you

    September 11, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  8. Phill from Derby NY

    You will never be forgotten!
    The Brotherhood will live forever!
    The Brotherhood will never die!

    September 11, 2008 at 12:55 pm |
  9. Bev C Town of Tonawanda, NY

    Dear Tom: God Bless you and my sympathies for the loss your fellow brother firefighters. I will never forget the feeling I had watching the Towers collapse and my first thought of all those people in there, the firefighters, rescue people . . What a loss. I truly hope the comments you read here today will help ease your pain. Thank you for your service.

    September 11, 2008 at 12:54 pm |
  10. Heather

    The last time I was in New York was in 1989 or 1990. I remember going to the observation floor at the WTC . I don't remember which building. All I can say is a view I will never ever forget.

    New York has always had a special place in our countries history. The place people came to from Ellis Island. The melting pot, the american dream. People have come to New York to make something for themselves and their families. You see old film footage of people working hard for a better life in New York.

    When the towers are finally built,New York is going to show the terrorists that they didn't win. Like in Isreal, when they are attacked by terrorists they rebuild. They destroy can destroy a building but they can't destroy the american spirit.

    All I can say is New York Fire Fighters are the best and the bravest in the world! They had no idea of what was going on and they just did their job. They are all Heroes!

    September 11, 2008 at 12:47 pm |
  11. Cris

    I would like to thank you and all firefighters for the dedication you show every day. My husband was in the Pentagon that day and thankfully was not injured. My heart goes out to you for the pain you have endured and I appreciate the bravery of all of those who put the safety of others above all else.

    September 11, 2008 at 12:43 pm |
  12. Sander

    I have been reading several of these posts today and I am saddened by the number of comments towards the posts discussing Islam, al Qeda, and such versus the 1 comment toward this post. I think we have gotten so wrapped up in the "war on terror" and the ideological/philosophical discussion of fundamentalism and terrorism and yada yada, that we have forgotten the victims. We have forgotten the brave souls who rushed to the scene to help, only to become lost victims themselves.

    It is 7 years later and there is still no definitive victims memorial. There is still no definitive memorial to the first responders (FDNY, NYPD, etc.) who lost their lives trying to help others. It has been 7 years and we are still trying to figure out how to take care of the folks who went to the scene and lived to tell about it and are now suffering from PTSD and respiratory issues. The families of the fallen who have endured such emotional, social, and financial difficulty in trying to recover from this tragedy.

    But hey, that's our good old Bush administration, right. Spout the rhetoric, get everyone to hold hands, then misdirect our attention and resources elsewhere. The money spent in Iraq and Afghanastan would pay for the appropriate memorial(s), and programs for survivors ten-fold. I am sorry. I am not trying to politicize this issue. It just ties into how I started this post. The focus of today should being on remembering those who lost their lives that day and the ones who survived or got left behind. Come on folks. We hear the discourse on terrorism and fundamentalism everyday. Let's give our hearts, minds, and ears to those 3000 innocents and the 343 who tried to help them and the city they love.

    September 11, 2008 at 12:23 pm |
  13. Dee from Manchester, CT

    The saying is that time heals. While I agree that time eases emotions, this is the one thing, that for me, it can not heal. Thank you just doesn't seem enough, there should be something stronger, but I do thank everyone who was, and is, involved in the tragedy, the ensuing rebuilding and the constant vigilance. My heart continues to go out to all the families. May you find solace, peace and love in your lives. God bless us all.

    September 11, 2008 at 12:23 pm |
  14. Annie Kate

    I have always admired firefighters for the dedication for helping others and the courage to run into a burning building when everyone else is rushing out. 343 brave souls lost each one representing a family left behind to grieve – on a day of evil and mass murder the fire fighters demonstrated the more humane and courageous traits of people.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    September 11, 2008 at 12:00 pm |
  15. Michelle from DA Bronx

    In loving memory of two heroes of 9/11 that either lived in or grew up in the Woodlawn/McLean Hts area of the Bronx/ Yonkers.

    Orio Palmer
    Sean Patrick Tallen

    To quote part of a song played at the funeral of Sean Tallen

    "Although we did not know them all, we knew them well enough to know what they were made of and that was hero stuff. Up the stairs boys running to the top, up stairs boys without a fault or stop. . up the staris on 9/11 and they kept on running right through the gates of heaven"

    September 11, 2008 at 11:59 am |
  16. Tyler Evans

    Thank you all...for everything. I know no other way to put it.

    September 11, 2008 at 11:47 am |
  17. eric

    I would recommend to everyone reading this, that if you haven't visited NY yet, do so. Take even a weekend and walk around the city. It's one thing to read a post like this, but words up on your screen can't compare to seeing a firehouse with firefighters going about their business, then walking just down the road to see a small park and memorial with the names of firefighters who died from that same firehouse. It just isn't real or tangible until you can get that kind of experience. When you do, it hits you and gives you an entirely different understanding of 9/11 and the stories of those who experienced it firsthand.

    September 11, 2008 at 11:38 am |