Marine 1 Manhattan

Marine 1 Manhattan was originally orgainzed as Engine 57 Boat on February1,1891.

Then it was reorganized to Marine 1 on March 1, 1959.

One New York City Firehouse's story of September 11, 2001

Covering Captain Ed Metcalf, working only his second day in Marine Company 1, listened to the change of tour banter at the kitchen table. Marine Engineer Billy O'Brien, him of the infectious laugh and sunny disposition said, "There should be a law against working on such a beautiful day." Everyone agreed.

At 0845, the night crew of Marine 1 had mostly been relieved. The day crew was drinking coffee and discussing the day ahead as the first plane hit the WTC. The impact was heard but thought to be from a nearby construction site.

Shortly thereafter, the voice alarm blared a second alarm for the World Trade Center. Captain Metcalf, aware of the proximity of the WTC to the Hudson River, shouted,"Let's go," and started the Fire Boat McKean on one of its longest, most arduous and certainly most important response in its 45 year history. It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

While responding, the upper floors of the south tower could be seen in the distance in flames, punching black smoke into the clear sky.

As the McKean got closer, the men watched, in gut wrenching horror, as people began jumping from the upper floors, some in pairs, holding hands.

Pilot Jim Campanelli brought the McKean into the sea wall at Liberty Street, just south of the North Cove Marina.

Captain Metcalf told the crew to assemble all the tools, spare masks, cylinders etc. on the fantail, as Marine 1 would probably be a staging area. He then told them to get ready to supply water & left for the command post for instructions.

Injured civilians started arriving at the sea wall. Firefighter Billy Gillman spotted a man with severe cuts and burns to the head, wandering around aimlessly. Bill sat him on a nearby bench and rendered first aid. Afraid the man was in, or going into shock, escorted him to a commuter ferry for transportation to New Jersey.

0910: A roar of jet engines was heard and everyone stopped what they were doing. A huge commercial airliner could be seen descending on the Manhattan skyline. FF Ed Weyrauch vocalized what was on each persons mind. "What in hell is that guy doing"? Moments later, in seeming slow motion, what he was doing became abundantly clear. As the plane crashed into the North Tower in a tremendous ball of flame, it was obvious to everyone that they had not responded to an accident, but an aerial attack.

The number of injured arriving at the sea wall increased dramatically. Mostly they were civilians, but also Police Officers and Firefighters. Others were assisting the most seriously injured. Each Firefighter arriving with injured returned immediately to the scene to help others.

During a lull, the crew decided to start stretching supply lines. Marine Engineer Dennis Thomson said no, as where the lines were needed had not yet been determined. FF Tom Sullivan said he would go to see if he could find Captain Metcalf and receive orders.

After walking about two blocks east, Tom heard a thunderous noise and saw a cloud rushing at him, he turned and ran west. As he was enveloped in the cloud he was also knocked to the ground by the force of what he believed to be an explosion. Having lost hi helmet, and crawling as fast as he could in complete darkness, Tom used his flashlight and found a curb. Small pieces of debris were hitting him and he was sure larger pieces were to follow and felt extremely vulnerable without his helmet. While crawling with his hand on the curb as a guide, Tom saw a small light a foot off the ground. On investigating he was shocked to find that the light was at the end of a rifle. As it turned out, the rifle was in the hand of a NYPD Emergency Services officer also looking for an escape. Tom told him he knew the way and together they found their way to the river and the McKean.

The "explosion" Tom heard was of course the collapse of the North Tower.

Captain Metcalf was at the command post just across from the WTC waiting orders when the tower collapsed. He said he dove, not knowing which way or where and miraculously survived. He was pulled out of the debris and rushed to a hospital in Brooklyn and found to have only minor injuries and returned to the scene a few hours later.

A full-blown panic was now underway at the sea wall. It was low tide and the steel deck of the McKean was 15 to 20 feet below the wall. Two ladders had been positioned to facilitate access and egress.

The scene was chaotic. Hordes of civilians, many incoherent, were trying to board the McKean. Several desperate people jumped the 15 to 20 feet to the deck, receiving moderate to severe injuries. One individual wanted to jump but was told to wait by Marine Engineer Bob Marshall. He jumped anyway and Bob tried his best to break his fall. Some of the civilians started untying the mooring lines to hasten their escape and had to be restrained.

Two women had jumped into the water to escape and were nearing the fireboat. A Jacobs ladder was put over the side and ring buoys were thrown to the women. The McKean is 138 feet in length and the freeboard is approximately 12 feet at midships, preventing any hand-to-hand assistance to anyone in the water. The women obviously had been in the water for a while for they were exhausted to the point of being incapable of helping themselves. Observing this, Marine Wiper Greg Woods and Marine Engineer Gulmar Parga jumped into the water. The smaller of the two women was assisted onto the ladder and into helping hands on the deck. Greg and Gulmar succeeded in getting the larger woman to the Jacobs ladder and urged her to climb up. "I can't do it, please just leave me," the emotionally distraught and physically drained woman replied. It was beginning to look like a failed effort. To the amazement of all on board, Greg woods dove under the water and physically raised this very heavy woman on his shoulders, assisted by Gulmar up onto the ladder enough to allow other men to partially climb down the ladder and precariously pull her to safety.

By now fewer people were arriving at the sea wall. There were 200 to 250 people on board now including children and infants, handicapped people and oddly enough two dogs.

Still not having heard from Captain Metcalf, the crew talked it over and decided it was imperative to somehow find medical help for the victims. Unsure of how this could be accomplished in the total chaos of Manhattan, it was agreed to go across the river to New Jersey.

Arriving in Jersey City in about 10 minutes, Pilot Jim Campanelli found he could not dock at the commuter ferry terminal due to shallow water at low tide.

Going south to the next available dock, whose height was close to boat deck level, evacuation was started with enormous help from the civilians on board. However, access was blocked by a chain link fence and wooden barricade, on the other side of which, emergency services from Jersey City were arriving.

Tom Sullivan took a partner saw from the boat and cut the chain link fence and wooden barricade and allowed access to the emergency services Jersey City provided.

While getting the victims off the boat and receiving that familiar feeling that you are getting the upper hand and can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel, someone screamed,"NOOOOO," while looking toward Manhattan. Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched horrified as the second tower collapsed.

As soon as possible, the McKean had to return to Manhattan. A few civilians asked if they could return with us to help. They were welcomed and in retrospect it's obvious we could not have functioned the way we did without the assistance of numerous, unnamed civilians throughout the disaster.

Everyone at this point was to some degree, in shock. That all tasks continued to be performed under these conditions is nothing short of astounding.

Heading back to Manhattan from Jersey, not knowing what was happening, or for that matter what happened, other than what you personally observed, was bewildering. A few members confided that they thought they were returning to New York to die.

Approaching the sea wall again there was a group of Firefighters waving the McKean in at the foot of Albany Street. Jim Campanelli brought the boat in there and tied up. The firefighters said there was no water in the hydrants and they needed water immediately.

Firefighters, Engineer, wipers and civilians started stretching supply lines east.

Off duty members of Marine 1 and other units were arriving to help at this time. Some member asked for, and received, masks, bunker gear, helmets, flashlights, etc., much of what was not recovered.

Visibility was still very poor due to the amount of dust in the air. 3 1/2 inch supply lines had to be manhandled all the way to the West Street in the choking, irritating atmosphere.

It was late morning now and Marine 1 off duty members, fortunately, were arriving in ones and twos. A steady stream of civilians were still arriving and were assisted on board and then transferred to police and Coast Guard launches pulling up on our port side, where they were evacuated to points unknown.

Due to the length of supply lines, it became obvious that we would be out of 3" inch hose soon. The Fireboat Kane and Tender Smoke responded to the quarters of Marine 1 at Bloomfield Street and retrieved spare fittings and numerous lengths of old hose, which fortunately had not yet been transferred to technical services. This old hose, some of it from the 1960's, did create somewhat of a problem, though it was a godsend. The Fire Department had switched all couplings on 3 inch hose to 3 inch. Much of the old hose still had the outdated 3 inch couplings. Fortunately, the engineers and wipers found enough adapters and resolved the problem. Subsequently, pallets of new 3 inch hose were delivered to the Albany Street site.

By early afternoon, all member of Marine 1 were present, alternately searching the collapse for victims, manning the previously decommissioned Fireboat Harvey, stretching lines and manning the Tender Smoke.

Communications, or lack thereof, was an ongoing problem. ECCs manning the pumps of on-scene engine companies were from other companies, on and off duty, and pressed into service. They didn't know where the assigned ECC was, did not know where their water supply was coming from nor where the lines they were supplying were going to. To further exacerbate the problem, they were not equipped with handi-talkies.

The first supply line was to a manifold opposite 90 West Street. The second and third lines were supplying E-219 at the intersection of Albany and West Streets, adjacent to 90 west Street. At one point 90 West Street was thought to be in danger of collapse due to numerous interior fires. The area was evacuated on orders received via handi talkie, leaving both the manifold and E-219 pumps unmanned. After about a half hour, firefighters, unfamiliar with inactivity at a disaster, started filtering back to continue doing what they could. (90 West Street still stands.)

Though the McKean was pumping at capacity, water pressure at West Street was barely adequate due to the long distance. D.C. Mosier, Sector Chief at Albany and West Streets, had E-228 and E-216 respond to Albany and South End Avenue. With the assistance of firefighters on scene, many from New Jersey communities, these pumpers were inserted into the supply lines, each receiving two 3 inch lines and relayed water to West Street. Subsequently E-14 was at the same location and was supplied with a 3 inch for relay. The two 3 inch lines supplying E-219 could not be interrupted due to the fact that it could not be determined who or what they were supplying and how critical those lines were.

During the period of late morning and early afternoon, while attempting desperately to gain control of the situation, constant reminders of the horror were abundant. Civilians, and even emergency personnel were encountered sitting, standing and wandering about in shock, with looks of total incomprehensibility, helplessness and surrender in their eyes and on their faces. As best you could, you guided them to others who could hopefully help them.

At about 2100 hours an engine company from the West Orange, New Jersey F.D. arrived at the foot of Albany Street and said they had five inch hose that could be used to relay water if needed. After Marine Engineer Dennis Thomson, who had been the de facto OIC most of the day, determined that the fittings were compatible, the W. Orange pumper was escorted to Albany Street and South End Avenue where the three FDNY engine companies were already relaying water east. However, the W. Orange unit did not have enough hose to go all the way to West Street. Still, more water could be supplied to the scene by supplying them with five inch hose and relaying with 3 inch hose. At this point the Patterson Fire Department arrived and it was determined that not only did they have 5 inch hose, but the couplings were also compatible with those of West Orange.

After lines ere stretched and connections made, D.C. Mosier was informed that in effect, a 5 inch water main was now at his disposal at West and Albany Streets.

Chief of the boat Joe Stark was informed at 2200 hours that his brother Jeff, a firefighter in E-230, was one of the missing.

At about 2300 hours a message was received in a round about way, that the F.D. would go on a two platoon, 24 hour on - 24 hour off schedule commencing at midnight, with the tours changing at 0900 daily. What that meant was that half of the members would be relieved at midnight and return at 9 AM for 24 hours. The other half would remain on duty until 0900 hours on Wednesday. In effect, some members would remain on duty for 48 continuous hours. Due to communication problems, some members remained on duty longer than that.

Exhausted, dirty, angry and frustrated, some members refused to leave.

Every FDNY engine company carries several lengths of 3 inch hose for relay or to supply standpipes. Marine Co. 1 stripped every available engine company of all 3" hose, utilized all " hose on the boat, all old hose retrieved from quarters and all new hose delivered by technical services.

It is estimated that Marine 1 supplied approximately 250 lengths, or 41 football fields, of 3inch hose and approximately 40 lengths, or 2 football fields, of 5 inch hose during this operation, without exceeding its capability.

M-1 continued supplying water as the DWS gradually repaired, or isolated, the damaged water mains until sometime Friday, September 14.

Thomas Tracy


Marine Company 1


NOTES: Of all the civilians on the boat only one name was recorded. Rich Varela was one of the individuals who volunteered to return to Manhattan to help. There was also an honorary deputy chief who was very helpful and whose name I cannot locate.

Based on the facts, it would seem the capability of a large fireboat in NYC is both understated and unappreciated.

Lastly, someone whom I don't know and can only paraphrase once said something to the effect of, "When everyone else is losing their head, the real man retains his"

That phrase, in my humble opinion, characterizes the action of the members of Marine Company 1 on September 11, 2001.

Tom Tracy

Captain, M-1

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