Former New York City Fireplace Commissioner Thomas Von Essen prided himself on being a distinct form of chief.
He spent greater than twenty years as a firefighter earlier than he was on the helm of the Fireplace Division of New York (FDNY) from 1996 to 2002. And as such, it was common to see Von Essen on the scene of a hearth, even when he was commissioner.
Doing so – becoming a member of FDNY members as they fought fires large and small— was usually the “greatest a part of the job,” he informed Fox Information. However when he joined the mounting numbers of FNDY items that responded to the World Commerce Middle’s North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001, “You knew it was going to be a horrible, horrible day,” he mentioned.
Von Essen, now 75, was in a automobile touring alongside East River Drive that morning in 2001. He was headed for the FDNY workplaces when he obtained a radio name that “a small aircraft had crashed into the North Tower.”
“A few seconds later … I might see some smoke from the Commerce Middle,” he recalled. “So we hit it just a little sooner and obtained there actually shortly.”
By the point he arrived, the home windows within the foyer of the tower “had been blown out,” he mentioned.
“The chiefs knew straight away that they weren’t going to have the ability to put the hearth out, however they wanted to assist as many individuals as they may evacuate on the higher flooring,” Von Essen continued.
Inside minutes, as they realized extra of the occasions unfolding all through the nation, “we realized we have been beneath assault,” he mentioned.
Von Essen described intimately how the remainder of the morning transpired, with the grim realization that the occasions have been greater than what the FDNY might deal with, and the fact that, in solely 102 minutes, each towers had collapsed.
“The times obtained worse as a result of the operation itself was simply what you do, however the grief and the heartache … with all of the households was the worst factor I’ve ever gone by way of,” he continued. “These of us, so lots of them misplaced family members – 1000’s of individuals misplaced family members.”
The phobia assaults on Sept. 11, 2001, claimed the lives of two,977 victims, together with 343 FDNY firefighters, 23 members of the NYPD and 37 Port Authority cops.
For Von Essen, “it was private,” he mentioned. “Each man, firefighter, was one thing particular to me – it wasn’t only a stranger.”
Von Essen had deliberate to proceed his position as commissioner beneath New York Metropolis Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who requested him to remain on, he mentioned. However after 9/11, “it was an excessive amount of.”
“It was across the center of November, I feel. I used to be emotionally a wreck. I informed Bloomberg, ‘I can’t. I can’t keep. I gotta go.’”
Von Essen, a married father of 4, left the FDNY that January and moved on to work with former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He then spent years working with Honeywell and Underwriters Laboratories earlier than changing into an administrator with the Federal Emergency Administration Company (FEMA) – and dealing inside the brand new One World Commerce Middle. He agreed to the job earlier than realizing the workplace’s location, he mentioned.
“Unusual is placing it mildly,” he mentioned of working in nearly the identical space the place the assaults befell years earlier.
“Some days, it was horrible occupied with it. Some days, it was simply filled with delight. Some days, I would get a sandwich and sit exterior by the fountains and take a look at all of the folks that got here there respectfully,” he mentioned. “You understand, it was a mixture of delight and ache.”
Von Essen nonetheless works part-time as a fireplace and security guide for main corporations and is now a proud grandfather of eight. He nonetheless speaks with among the FDNY brass he labored alongside on 9/11 and nonetheless feels choked up when occupied with the folks they misplaced that day.
“I do not assume anyone had something to be ashamed of that day, or embarrassed, or assume that they did something improper. I feel they needed to get folks up there as quick as they may to assist folks. That is what they did,” he mentioned. “They tried to get anyone out. They simply could not get them out quick sufficient.”