'This could be rough'

NY Daily News - October 12, 2006

by JONATHAN LEMIRE and PATRICE O'SHAUGHNESSY

Riding on Ladder 13's truck to the Belaire yesterday, FDNY Lt. Tom Landau saw fire on the upper floors of the luxury skyscraper and heard over the radio that a plane had crashed into the building. He turned and looked at his crew and said, "This could be a rough one."

As the 23-year veteran put it, "A lot of s--t goes through your head when you hear that it's a plane."

When they arrived at the E. 72nd St. building, bricks, metal and glass rained down on them, and they ran past what Landau later realized were two bodies on the sidewalk.

Inside, a stream of people poured out of the elevators and stairways. "They had that look on their faces; not panic, but real concern," Landau said.

Most New Yorkers couldn't help but hearken back to the World Trade Center catastrophe upon seeing the burning skyscraper on TV. The blaze conjured vivid thoughts of 9/11 for some of the city's Bravest, too.

But other than the flames being on two floors, rather than one, it proved to be similar to a textbook high-rise fire - the kind Manhattan firefighters face routinely.

"We get these all the time," said FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon.

It took 200 firefighters on 40 rigs to battle the four-alarm blaze, which ignited at 2:43 p.m.

The first company to arrive was Engine 44, led by Lt. Edward Ryan. They did not know a plane had crashed into the building.

"A thousand people were running the other way down the street and pointing back at the building," Ryan said. "There was burning debris everywhere, pitch-black smoke, and things burning on the ground. We went on our hands and knees to get in the building."

The fire was actually on the 30th floor, but the apartment the plane crashed into was numbered 40F, causing some confusion. Firefighters took the elevators to 30 and kept walking up, checking each floor.

At 40F, the door was warped and fire was raging out of the eyehole, and Ladder 13 members broke down the door, Ryan said.

"There was nothing but orange in front of us," Ryan said.

"A ball of flame front to back," Landau agreed.

The engine company stretched a line into the apartment and put out the fire. Ladder 13 did a primary search of the charred apartment.

"It went very smooth," Ryan said.

"There was a big hole in the side of the building, and I told the guys to stay away from there, we're [30] stories up," he added.

The firefighters broke through the wall into an adjacent apartment and extinguished the flames there, finding a wheel component of the plane.

Ryan thought he was looking at car parts and figured they looked out of place, until he was told a plane had burst into the tower.

It was a Cirrus SR20 piloted by Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle. He and his co-pilot were killed in the crash. Their bodies were those Landau had seen on the street.

Because the fire did not engulf entire floors, FDNY officials were not concerned about people being trapped above it. The plane also was a small craft, so there was not a tremendous amount of jet fuel to feed the flames and compromise the soundness of the building.

But Landau, who was in a Harlem fire company five years ago and arrived right after the twin towers' collapse, took an extra precaution.

"I said a little prayer that there was not more jet fuel so we would not have to go through what the brothers went through on 9/11," he said.

I'm just his grandmother."