Logo for: Rotary Old Saybrook

Sept 11, 2001 Remembered

From Bill O’Shaughnessy  -  ROTARY Club of Old Saybrook, Westbrook, and Old Lyme

Sept-11-04  (3 years later)


Recently retired FDNY Midtown Manhattan  Battalion Fire Chief Joseph Nardone was the featured speaker at last weeks meeting of the ROTARY Club of Old Saybrook, Westbrook, & Old Lyme.

Guests at the meeting included several local Fire and Police Dept. representatives:
From Old Saybrook: Fire Marshall Don Dobson; Police Officers Sam Barnes, Mike Gardner, & Mike Spera
From Westbrook: Fire Marshall George Rabberb & Fire Chief Cliff Spenser
From Old Lyme: Fireman Arthur “Skip” BeeBee

Chief Nardone began his career as a volunteer fireman in 1960 and joined the NY Fire Dept in 1967.  He came up thru the ranks during what he described as the “war years” of the turbulent 60’s and 70’s when there were so many fires in Brooklyn & other boroughs in NYC.  In 1991 he was promoted to Fire Chief of Battalion 9 in Midtown Manhattan.  He supervised 5 Fire Companies in 3 fire stations encompassing the theater district to Lincoln Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trump Tower, Grand Central and Penn Stations, and the Port Authority Terminal.

Each person involved in the events of Sept 11th and afterward has there own story to tell”, he said, “and I’m here to help the effort too never forget”.  These are some of the events that Chief Nardone said he was involved in.

Chief Nardone was scheduled to work the night shift of Sept 11th.  He was at home when he learned of the first plane hitting the North Tower while listening to IMUS IN THE MORNING.  He learned of the 2nd Tower hit while racing down the Westside Highway toward his fire station.  The first Tower fell while he was at the station suiting up.  He wrote his wife a note, grabbed an extra radio, and hitched a ride on a reserve fire truck heading for “ground zero”.  “There was no hesitation, no thought about himself, just doing what we had been trained for”.  On the way down the 2nd Tower fell.  “I thought at that point that we had probably lost at least 200 firefighters…  If this had happened one day later…or if I had gotten there a little earlier…it would have been me”.  “I was standing next to a fireman who was using a surveyors transit to look for any leaning of Tower 7…15 seconds later it came straight down”.

He went on to describe the rest of that hectic and emotional day; staging & sending in reserve fire crews, took charge of trying to protect nearby critically important buildings e.g. the AT&T communications building and working to exhaustion.

Sept 12th was spent in the fire station trying to reorganize and to begin handling the aftermath of such a tragic event.  He had lost every person on the day shift… from the chief to the drivers…from all 5 fire companies…with the exception of one man.  This included one crew who were off active duty…they were scheduled for training that day…but had called in and said they were available to help.  33 firefighters lost.

Sept 13th he was off.

Sept 14th, he said, was a much better day. “I got to do what I wanted to do…I went down to ground zero to help supervise looking for survivors and recovery victims…climbing the mountains & valleys of rubble”. “The steel was still hot and the ground still shaking and rumbling…I saw an airplane engine, wrecked fire and rescue equipment…body parts…I remember the heat and the smells.” “ It was amazing that I did not see single desk, TV, computer, file cabinet…and there must have been a half million of them the day before…only steel and dust and cable”.

Chief Nardone was involved in recovering many victims over the next days, weeks, and months.  A funeral for each one of the firefighters.  Grieving families…28 children in his own fire station on 48th street and 8th Ave. who had lost their father.

The response from the people in the theater district (incl. Jim Carey, Eliz. Taylor, John Travolta, the cast of the Sopranos…who acted exactly like their TV characters)…from other parts of the city, from people around the nation has been unbelieveable...it wasn’t just our tragedy…it was also the nation’s tragedy.”

“Because Midtown is a popular tourist attraction…we kept the front door open for 5 months as visitors from around the world would stop to pay their respects…it was truly amazing.”