BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield remembered the tragedy of 9/11 on Wednesday, Sept. 11, in a ceremony on the Green. Three township residents were among the nearly 3,000 who died at the World Trade Center: Cesar Alviar, Catherine Nardella and Daniel Rosetti.
Bloomfield Recreation Director Michael Sceurman welcomed the audience, which included Bloomfield firefighters, police officers, EMS and the Bloomfield Mandolin Orchestra Ensemble. The invocation was given by Father Jim Brown of Sacred Heart Church.
“A tragic day for Americans,” Sceurman said.
At the ceremony, Mayor Michael Venezia said Sept. 11, 2001, was a day that began like any other “but became one of the worst in our nation’s history,” and thanked Bloomfield first responders who had helped at that time.
“We came together not separated by politics, gender or race,” he said.
On Friday, Sept. 13, two Bloomfield Fire Department captains recalled 9/11 and their deployment to Brooklyn firehouses that were shorthanded. They spoke at the firehouse across from St. Valentine’s Church. Nearly 350 NYC firemen died in the 9/11 attacks.
“I was at headquarters doing my normal routine and we got a call that the World Trade Center was on fire,” Capt. Robert Griffin said. “I went into the kitchen to watch TV and saw the second flight hit.”
He called his fiancee who worked in New York to tell her to leave the city, but she told him everything was shut down.
“The cell service was not good at that point,” he said. “And then there was a working fire at Park View Nursing Home near the Green.”
Griffin drove the fire engine that day and was responsible for making certain that firefighters had enough water to fight the nursing home fire. Once the first rig gets there, Griffin said, its driver looks for backup hydrants. Four engines, a truck and a deputy chief went to the nursing home scene. Fire engines, he said, carry about 750 gallons of water and fire trucks carry tools to ventilate a building — break open walls — to look for hidden fires. He said he was not thinking about New York while at the Bloomfield scene.
“You go into automatic and worry about the task at hand,” he said.
It was not much of a fire at the nursing home, and when Griffin returned to headquarters the Twin Towers were gone. He could not reach his fiancee and later found out she had walked to Queens. News agencies were calling headquarters to learn if Bloomfield was sending mutual aid. That had not yet been requested, but Griffin was with the first crew of four that did go Sept. 13.
“We took Engine No. 2 to Coney Island, Neptune Street, to cover a station,” he said. “We were there for a couple of hours and then took two firemen to another Coney Island station, on Dean Street. Along the way, they talked about their colleagues who had died.”
At the firehouse on Dean Street, Griffin saw a fire engine that had been at the WTC site.
“It was totally destroyed,” he said. “The one side, because of the debris from the towers coming down, looked like it had been sandblasted.”
People were coming by the firehouse and after a few hours, the Bloomfield group was told to return home.
“The two things that stand out in my mind,” Griffin said about his experience, “was every time they found somebody, a firefighter, they transmitted it over the radio. They gave the last alarm and they put the tones of the firehouse out.”
Griffin said every firehouse in the city received the same transmission. It came over the fire department radio band. The last alarm was the number of the alarm box at the site of the fire. The alarm box for the WTC was 9998. Because the remains of the victims were unidentifiable, Griffin said the only way rescue workers knew it was a firefighter was from the bunker gear, which is the protective jacket a firefighter wears. When these transmissions came in, there was only silence, Griffin said.
“The second thing I remember was that Canal Street was completely empty,” he said. “I never saw that.”
Once he returned to Bloomfield, he said he went right back to his firefighting routine.
Fire Capt. Richard Rannou was working a contract job putting up ceilings on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I heard something on the radio,” he said. “A plane went into the World Trade Center. But it was a clear day and I thought that was weird.”
When he heard a second jet had struck the other tower, he left for Eagle Rock to see lower Manhattan, but access to the park was closed. Coming down Bloomfield Avenue, from Upper Montclair, he saw the plume of smoke and debris from the WTC site.
“I made a call and spoke with another fireman,” he said. “Chief Joe Intile said no one was going anywhere.”
But everyone wanted to go. Rannou did not remember how his name got into the running, but on Sept. 12, he was sent with a group to Dean Street, where they stayed for 12 hours.
“Both rigs from Dean Street were at the World Trade Center site,” he said. “Bloomfield, Montclair, West Caldwell and Caldwell were assigned to Dean Street.”
The firefighters thought, since they would be covering for the NYC Fire Department in Coney Island, they would be busy, but they were not. If no smoke or fire was seen, mutual aid was not to respond. Along with the wait, there was some levity.
“They had a dog in the firehouse and it didn’t like one of our guys,” Rennou laughed. “I thought that was hysterical,” but he would not divulge the name of the Bloomfield firefighter who had the dog’s hair up.
He continued: “Dean Street is a very tight street. It’s Engine No. 219 and Ladder Company No. 105. No. 219 came back, but No. 105 was crushed.”
He said the street was so tight that fire truck drivers had to use the opposite sidewalk to get into the firehouse.
The Bloomfield group then learned it was to be dispatched to the WTC site, but because of fear another building was going to collapse, the printed dispatch ticket was cancelled and tossed to the floor. Rannou retrieved it as a souvenir.
The Bloomfield group was eventually dispatched to a firehouse that had the last rescue truck remaining in the city. Rannou said it was a truck that had personnel trained to perform rescues. All the other NYC rescue trucks had been demolished when the towers came down.
“After that, we went to Coney Island,” he said. “That was where we got relieved by Bob Griffin and his crew.”
While at Dean Street, Rannou did not ask any questions. He believes the firehouse lost five men.
“It’s nothing you want to see happen,” he said of the attack. “But New York City is the biggest and probably the best fire department. You’re almost humbled if you can help them.” In concluding this year’s 9/11 memorial service, Freeholder Carlos Pomares commented, like Venezia, on how the nation came together on Sept. 11, 2001, and commended the first responders who, although facing danger, answer the call.