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Five Floors Up: The Heroic Family Story of Four Generations in the FDNY

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 12, 2023 3:02 am

Five Floors Up: The Heroic Family Story of Four Generations in the FDNY

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 12, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, seen through the eyes of four generations of a firefighter family, Five Floors Up tells the story of the modern New York City Fire Department. From the days just after the horse-drawn fire truck, to the devastation of the 1970s when the Bronx was Burning, to the unspeakable tragedy of 9/11, to the culture-busting department of today, a Feehan has worn the shoulder patch of the FDNY. Here's Five Floors Up author, Brian McDonald, with the story. 

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Here is author Brian McDonald. The family gathering might have been a late summer barbecue. The evening was warm and the fading summer's air carried the scent of ocean salt.

But there was nothing ordinary about this day. In the backyard, Billy Fian cupped his hand over one ear with his cell phone pressed to the other as F-16 fighter jets screamed overhead. He and his family had just arrived from Princeton, New Jersey where they lived.

Three police departments, the Princeton Junction, the New Jersey State Troopers, and the NYPD had formed a relay team to escort them to his sister and brother-in-law's house in Bell Harbor, New York. It was mid-span on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge when Billy had his first glimpse of what was left of the World Trade Center. Even from that distance, the enormity of it shocked him. The thick black smoke seemed to reach a mile into the sky. John Fian, Billy's brother, and Brian Davin, both firefighters, had just returned home from the Trade Center site, still wearing turnout gear. The cement dust that covered them gave their faces a ghostly white appearance, and their eyes were red from the acrid air, exhaustion, and tears. What they had just seen was beyond their understanding. A six-inch shroud of dust covered the remains of the mighty World Trade Center.

Brian likened it to walking on the moon, but what he remembers most is not the deadly dust, the moonscape, or even the twisted steel girders. It is the sound that the firefighters got air-packed pass alarms, hundreds of them buried under a million tons of cement and steel that he can still hear in his mind today. On the phone with Billy was Henry McDonald, his father's executive officer, sort of an aide to camp. Henry had been the one to call Billy to tell him that his father, Chief William Fian, had been killed in the attack. Billy wanted to get into the city to see his father's body.

Though Manhattan was essentially sealed to traffic, he knew Henry could make it happen. Seventy-five years before the attack on the World Trade Center, Chief Fian's dad, William, was the first of the four generations of firefighters. William was born in 1891. His parents were Julia and William Fian Sr. And they had emigrated from Ireland like eight years before.

They settled in a part of New York City called Long Island City. It was a rough-and-tumble, working-class neighborhood. And William took on the attributes of the neighborhood in which he grew up. He was a tough kid.

He was the youngest of ten children and the only one born in America. But as the youngest, he was especially attached to his mom. After the father left, the relationship with the mother grew even closer. And then Julia got sick. She developed cancer. And William would dote on her for the rest of her life.

But when she died, he found himself at thirty-four, single and without a career. But as luck would have it, or divine intervention would have it, he would meet a woman named Catherine Cashman. Catherine would be the catalyst or the conduit for William's entry into the fire department. Catherine had a brother who was a priest in a local parish. And her brother was not only a priest at the parish, but he was a part-time chaplain for the FDNY.

You know, so it took William a long time to find this true calling. Once he walked into the firehouse, he knew what he wanted to do. You know, firefighters have this expression. It's called chasing fire. The text is that some firefighters are drawn to the action and danger of the job more than others.

And those firefighters are said to chase fire. In fact, I documented at least three times when he was hospitalized from injuries in fires. One time, it was actually so bad that he was given the last rites. When they put him in the ambulance, everybody thought it was the last time they were going to see William, but William would survive. And perhaps miraculously, he was a really religious guy. He would go to church every morning and light a candle. And the story goes that when he was in the hospital, the nurse went to take off his scapular medal. And a scapular medal is like this little cloth that some Catholics wear.

It's like a badge of devotion. The nurse went to take William's off, and he practically jumped right out of the bed. Not all of William's stories were death-defying. One of the great joys I had in writing this book was listening to the family stories and the next generations of firefighters. Firefighters are some of the best storytellers you'll ever meet.

Here's one. After a spate of deadly and spectacular theater fires across the country, mostly caused by the gas lamps of the day, New York City enacted regulations that required a uniformed fireman be posted at all theater performances. For a busy fireman, theater duty was a chance to take a breather and see a show. One night in the early 1930s, William volunteered to do fire duty at a theater featuring an up-and-coming singer named Ella Fitzgerald. Noting her name, he told his pals he was in the mood to hear some good Irish music. On another evening, the detail put him in an uptown opera house.

The performance that night was by an Italian composer and set during the days of the Roman Empire. Just before the performance, several of the extras on the show called in sick with the flu. The director found himself in a real bind.

When William arrived for work, he saw his way out of it. The local firehouse captain would do rounds each night to check on the firemen who were on theater duty. On this particular evening, the captain happened to be accompanied by his boss, the deputy chief.

When they arrived at the opera house, William was nowhere to be found. As the search continued, the deputy chief became more and more aggravated. What hell is he, the chief demanded of the captain. He must be somewhere, the captain answered.

The man's a good man. It was at that point the captain's eyes fell on the performance. There he is, he exclaimed. Where? The third Roman soldier on the left, he said, pointing at the back of the stage.

The one with the spear. And you've been listening to author Brian McDonald tell the story of the Fian family, four successive generations served in the New York Fire Department. More of the story here on Our American Stories after these messages. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country.

Stories from our big cities and small towns. But we truly can't do this show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to OurAmericanStories.com and click the donate button. Give a little, give a lot.

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After 30 gigabytes, service may be slowed. Receive a comparable iPhone model each year with an acceptable trade-in every year. Requires credit qualification and 36-month phone financing agreement. And we're back with Our American Stories and with author Brian McDonald. His book, Five Floors Up, is available at Amazon, at local bookstores or wherever you buy your books. Now let's return to the story of the Fiends through the Roaring Twenties and the birth of their son, Bill, who would go on to lead the FDNY. So in 1929, Catherine would give birth to a baby boy whom they called Bill, and six years later, she'd give birth again to another boy whom they named Jim after Catherine's brother, the priest, Father Jim.

Bill, the youngest boy, seemed ordained to be a firefighter right from the start. But Father Jim had other ideas. Father Jim was grooming Bill to be the next Cardinal. He went to a high school called Cathedral in Brooklyn, which was a prep school for a seminary. If you took the special courses offered by Cathedral, you were on a fast track to become a priest.

Now Bill tells you that he would have become a priest. The way he puts it, he said he found out the girls in Bishop McLaughlin High School nearby were a lot more interesting than Gregorian chants, and he knew he wasn't going to be a priest. Very ambitious young man.

At the time, it was unusual for a middle-class kid. He got a four-year degree in history from St. John's. He could have been a college professor.

He certainly could have been a teacher. But something called the Korean War began 6,000 miles away. Even though he was a college graduate, Bill joined the Army and found himself on the Korean Peninsula. He saw a lot of death and he saw a lot of misery in war, but he never, ever talked about it.

He was of that generation of men who didn't bare their souls about the things they saw in war. When he came out of the Army, almost immediately married his lifelong sweetheart, Betty Keegan, and he needed a job. At this point, he went back to his childhood love and wanted to become a firefighter.

He wanted to follow his father's footsteps. However, he needed to wait for the fire department exam, which was given only every four years. Meanwhile, he was about to get married to his love, Betty, and they wanted to start a family, so he needed a job. He joined something called the fire patrol, which was like a stepping stone to becoming a real fireman. It was a very fire known in history now as the Worcester Street Fire.

It occurred on Valentine's Day night, February 14, 1958, while Bill was on the fire patrol. Inside the building, the heat felt to Bill like it was melting his skin. The odor surrounding him was a thick, toxic blend of burning rope, wood, tar, and chemicals. The room he entered contained heavy machinery, large bales of paper, and 800-pound rolls of twine. Fire Patrolman Thiem took his covers and climbed the massive roll of twine. At the top, he was only a foot or so from the ceiling. He could see the smoke seeping through from the room above.

After he finished covering the bale, he went down for more covers. By then, the street was filled with rigs and firemen. Hoses snaked into the building while water cannons fired at the top floors.

On the roof, firemen used axes to hack holes for ventilation. Thick black smoke poured out of the openings they made. In less than half an hour, the blaze had progressed from one alarm to four. Ten minutes later, it would go to five. Meanwhile, the temperature outside began to plummet.

Snow blew in icy gusts. Bill went up and down the stairs two more times. He felt a searing pain in his chest from the smoke. As the young fire patrolman started down again, a fireman was standing on the third floor landing, putting on a mask and blocking the stairwell. When he saw Bill, he stepped out of the door frame.

You guys go ahead of me, he said. The next thing Bill heard was a deafening thunderclap. The last thing he remembered was the floor beneath him falling away. The rush of air caused by the collapse lifted him and blew him down the stairwell.

Screams from inside the building were so loud, people on the street heard them. So when Valentine's Day night turned to the next day, Bill was supposed to be home that morning when the shift was over. He worked the overnight shift, and he didn't show up.

She started to really get worried. And this, of course, was before cell phones, and he couldn't get to the phone. Four fire patrolmen were missing in the rubble.

Two New York City firefighters were also missing. So Bill had his hands full. He couldn't get to a phone. He couldn't call.

Search continued for the other missing fire patrolmen. The next evening, practically a whole day later after he had gone to work, Bill finally walked into the apartment. And Betty took one look at him and, you know, caught her breath. And he went in and took the long, hot shower, and then he started getting dressed and walking out of the apartment again. And she goes, where are you going? And he goes, I got to go back. And she said, you can't.

And he said, I have to. And he went back to the scene. And it had taken another whole day before they found the bodies of the other fire patrolmen. Bill would later joke that the Holy Ghost blew him out of the building. So on August 20th, 1958, a little more than two months after the Worcester Street fire, Betty awakened in the early morning hours with severe contractions. When they arrived, the hospital lobby was empty, save a Catholic nun at a telephone switchboard. Betty was in severe pain. The nun rushed to them.

I've got her, she told Bill. You take over the switchboard. You want me to do what, he asked?

There's no one else here, he said. Someone has to answer the phone. The nun took Betty by the arm and rushed down the hallway. For a moment, Bill stood there wondering what had just happened. Then the phone started to ring. Ms. Ricordia, he said in a voice a bit unsteady, how can I help you? Betty gave birth that morning to a healthy baby girl named Elizabeth.

The third generation of Elizabeths in the Keegan line. After a few years on the fire patrol, Bill retook the fire department's entrance exam. Once again, he aced the written and physical parts of the test. When he arrived for the eye examination, the older gentleman administering the test seemed to Bill to be all business. When he pressed his face to the machine, he again had trouble making out the last line of the chart. He squinted as hard as he could to bring the final letter into view. It's either a C or an O, he said nervously.

Has to be one of them, kid, the man said softly. Bill knew his future as a New York City firefighter hung in the balance. He'd just turned 30 and the next time the test came around, he might be too old to take it. Throughout his career in the FDNY, he would tell the story of that eye test often. He could never remember, however, which letter he picked.

Nor could he be sure that the letter he chose was actually the correct one. Betty and Bill were very social. They used to like to get all dolled up and go into Manhattan to see a show or a play and have dinner at a nice restaurant. Betty also had a group of close-knit friends that she grew up with and stayed close into adulthood. And she had a quirky sense of humor, very outgoing.

It was always the life of the party. As a mom, too, she could be very adventurous. She was a horrible driver. But that didn't stop her from taking the kids on these extended road trips. She'd find the destination of some odd event happening and she'd put the kids in the car and drive them all the way to Jersey.

One time they went to see how police dogs had trained and she had to go all the way from Queens to New Jersey, which is an arduous trip. After she got pregnant with Liz, she developed postpartum depression and it got only worse with each subsequent pregnancy. What got so bad, by the time she had Tara, who was the fourth-born child, she had to be hospitalized.

And somehow Bill, even though he had a big job, you know, he was already climbing the ladder of the department, he'd cook dinner for the kids or drop them off at the grandparents or bring them to soccer or twirling practice and then go, you know, be a captain in a very busy firehouse and he somehow kept it all together. But then an event had that really sent Betty into an incredibly dark, downward spiral. She had a baby they named Michael. When he was about four months old, he developed a condition that needed an operation. It wasn't that severe of an operation, but it would require him to go under general anesthetic and Michael never woke up on the operating table. Betty was devastated. Bill was so devoted to his wife, he waited on her hand and foot, but he had no answer for this depression his wife was in.

And the pressure on him was so severe, he developed these headaches that were so intense that he would vomit from them. Yet somehow he kept the family together and continued an unprecedented climb up the ladder at the FDNY. And you're listening to the story of the Fian family, as told by author Brian McDonald. And his book is five floors up. Pick it up. It is one heck of a read about New York City history, about Irish immigration, and also about this thing called the New York Fire Department, which now fields 11,000 firefighters. When we come back, more of this remarkable story, the story of the Fian family here on Our American Story. . Get ready to wake up to Sunday morning football because the NFL is back across the pond with two huge matchups. We're talking Jags, Bills, and Ravens Titans. So set your alarm.

Then rise, shine, and watch the NFL London games, October 8th and 15th, only on NFL Network. Rolled tacos with beef and cheddar and corn tortillas, that irresistible blend of flavorful spices. Feeling the sun on my face as I stroll along, listening to the music, mingling with the crowd. Another deli mixed taquito?

Sure I'll take one. Mmm, I savor that perfectly seasoned beef, the delicious chicken and melty cheese, and I hear cheering? And I realize I'm at home with the family watching the ballgame, which is also pretty awesome. Quality ingredients are what make Deli-Mex America's number one taquito. Viva delicious Mexican. Viva Deli-Mex. Learn more at delimex.com. That's T-E-L-I-M-E-X.com.

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Bachelor in Paradise premieres Thursday 9, 8 central on ABC and stream on Hulu. Nissan's electric vehicles run on a special electricity, not the electricity that turns on light bulbs or runs through your outlets. Think about it. What's that rush that gets you excited and creative sparks fly? I'm talking that spying, tingling, goosebumps feeling that electrifies your body and soul. It could be the simple win of leaving on time for your morning commute, locking eyes with your crush, or scoring the largest deal of your career. But really it's pushing new ideas forward and being fearless, believing that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Even though it may be uneasy, the journey ahead will produce great results.

And that's the most thrilling ride, empowering yourself to embrace any new adventure that comes your way. And you can get that same electrifying feeling when driving a Nissan. Nissan is ever evolving and changing the game through electric vehicle innovation. Because the electricity their cars generate not only moves engines, but it also moves the emotions of those who drive them.

To learn more about Nissan's electric vehicle lineup, visit www.NissanUSA.com. Hey there, check out this news from Boost Infinite. You can now get the latest iPhone every year and unlimited wireless for just $60 a month. This includes the new iPhone 15 Pro.

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Requires credit qualification and 36-month phone financing agreement. And we're back with Our American Stories and with author Brian McDonald. His book, Five Floors Up, the heroic family story of four generations in the FDNY is one heck of a tale. The 1970s were a tough time in New York City. Let's find out how it affected the FDNY. The 1970s in the New York City Fire Department are known as the war years. You might have heard the expression, the Bronx is burning. Well, that's when the Bronx was burning during the war years.

And it wasn't only the Bronx, it was Harlem, it was the Lower East Side, it was parts of Brooklyn, all inner city neighborhoods that were laid waste by arson, neglect, malfeasance on the part of city leadership. I interviewed Tom Von Essen, who was the fire commissioner during 9-11, but he was a firefighter in the South Bronx during the 70s. And he told me that dispatch used to warn the fire trucks out on a run not to stop at other fires. On the way to the fires, they were sent to fight in Harlem because of equipment shortage and everything. The expression was all you needed was sneakers and a raincoat to be a firefighter in Harlem.

Bill's firehouse was no different. The neighborhood that his firehouse was lined with these five-story tenement buildings, if you ask a New York City firefighter, they'll tell you that fires in tenement buildings are hardest to fight. Wooden structures, narrow hallways, lots of windows, lots of people usually, and they're made out of wood.

So the tender boxes, they go up like a matchbook. Firefighters and Bill's engine company used to say every time they got a call in a tenement fire, it was always on the top floor and way in the back of the building, like the hardest place to reach the crew. So they came up with this expression, five floors up and five rooms deep.

That became rallying cry and the title of my book, Five Floors Up, because they go anywhere the fire took them. Like most firefighters with families, Bill had to moonlight. No firefighter could raise a family just on a firefighter's salary, and Bill was no exception. For most of the beginning of his career, he taught in the New York City school system. He was a great teacher, but in the early 70s and the late 80s, New York City ran out of money and they stopped the substitute teacher program, and Bill was out of a moonlight job and he needed one badly.

He had three kids in college at the time. His neighbors in Flushing was a man named Eddie Brady, who was a detective in the New York City police department. And Eddie was working hotel security for Harry and Leona Helmsley, owners of, among other things, the Helmsley Palace in New York. Now, years before Donald Trump, Harry Helmsley was the preeminent real estate mogul in New York City, but it was Leona who would wrestle the Donald for the front page of the New York Post.

Page 6 dubbed her the Queen of Mean. She was so notoriously bad to her employees that a staff at her mansion in Connecticut would call the staff at the hotels when Leona had left for the city to warn them, right? In time, you would realize that Leona was just a sad, sad, lonely woman. Bill would end up working for Leona for 20 years. All the fee and kids would work for her as bellhops and waitresses in the hotel restaurants. Bill would often remind them that it was Leona who paid their college tuition after 20 years of working for Leona Helmsley. She threw him a cocktail party. Things didn't work out as nicely for her in her later years. Rudy Giuliani was then the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, and he prosecuted her on tax evasion and fraud.

She ended up spending 18 months in jail and was sentenced to 750 hours of community service, which ballooned to 900 hours of community service after the judge found out that Leona was using her staff to do some of the court-ordered work. Bill saw a lot of changes from the 1950s to the 1990s, including the first female firefighters as well as the first African-American commanders. He would always say it wasn't brawn or even brains that were the main ingredients of a good firefighter, but hard. When Bill had time to get home and see his dad, the two of them would sit and talk fire, as they called it. Bill loved, revered, and respected his father. Sadly, William Patrick Fee and Bill's dad died on February 2, 1975. Emphysema was cited as the cause of death on his death certificate.

He never smoked in his life. In the 1980s, crime was out of control when New York took on the name Fear City. Police and firefighters became targets as they ran towards the disaster, whatever it might be. Bill continued his rise through the ranks, and on August 19, 1991, Mayor David Dinkins promoted him to chief of the department.

He was only the 24th man to hold that position. Two years later, on February 23, 1993, the Jordanian nationals drove a rental truck filled with 1,300 pounds of urea nitrate into a sub-basement garage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. They blew a six-story crater in the building.

It would be a harbinger of what was to come. On June 14, 1996, Bill stood in the kitchen of his house and flushing with the rotary phone in his hand, his eyes shone with tears. Outside the kitchen window, the first light of the day began to filter through the leaves of the oak tree that stood next to the house. For months, Betty had been in and out of the hospital, progressively getting worse. By then, the kids were out of the house and on with their lives, and aside from the squirrels, Bill spent much of his time there alone. He clicked the cradle on the phone and dialed his best friend, Henry McDonald's, number. Betty's gone, he said, and to the receiver. His wife had spent her last days in St. Clair's Hospital in the Hell's Kitchen section of Manhattan. He'd fussed over Betty so many times when she was hospitalized, making sure she had what she needed and that her room was tidy. Sometimes he'd go to see her alone, but other times he came with the children. Afterwards, he'd take the kids to the Woodside Steakhouse in Queens where the Irish waitresses fussed over them. Right to the end, Bill was crazy about Betty, and she was crazy about him. Ultimately, there was nothing he could do to save her.

Betty was 62 when she died. It was a great loss to Bill, and he threw himself into his work. There was always the work, the firefighters and the department. Meanwhile, his son John took the test for the FDNY on January 17, 1995, and aced it, becoming a valedictorian of his Academy class.

First Deputy Commissioner Bill Fian handed his son the award. Bill knew the sacrifice and risk it took to become a New York City firefighter. He had to write far too many obituaries for fallen firefighters. In one he wrote, The truest kind of love is to lay down your life for another, but the purest form of love is to cherish each other every day.

Never leave a moment stout that you loved with your whole heart and soul. As the first deputy commissioner, Bill was instrumental in getting better and safer equipment, refitting firehouses, upgrading computer systems via data sharing, and overall improvement of the quality of life for his firefighters. He once said, No matter what we do, no matter how well we train, no matter how good our equipment is, no matter how hard we try, no matter what, the time will come when we will lose another firefighter. Even before September 11th, 2001 was a deadly year for the New York City Fire Department. The fire in a hardware store in Queens on Father's Day killed three elite firefighters. Then on August 28th, 2001, a 27-year-old probie firefighter named Michael Garumba would die of a heart attack during a fire in an auto shop on Staten Island.

Michael Garumba's would be the last line of duty death before 9-11. And you're listening to Brian McDonald tell the story of the Fian family, of the FD and Wyatt and William in particular. The 70s were indeed the war years. The Bronx was burning, so was much of New York City. Through arson, through malfeasance, criminality, and just sheer negligence. And then the 80s, well, New York City earned its reputation, a fear city. Murder was out of control and violent crime, and the FDNY had to live through all of it. And then, of course, William, well, he faces the loss of his bride. When we come back, more of the story of the Fian family, and William Fian in particular, is right here on Our American Story. Another touchdown!

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There has to be something more than money that makes them do that. William M. Feehan. So the day started like any other for Bill Feehan that morning. He had eggs over easy at the North Shore Diner before heading into work.

He was looking forward to having lunch with Henry McDonald, who had retired a few months before. He was in his office in headquarters in Brooklyn when United Flight 11 hit the North Tower. From some of the offices and headquarters, you could see the Trade Center clearly. Some reported that the shock waves from the impact traveled the 13 miles in an instant and bowed the office windows.

Chief Feehan called to his driver to get the car. The second jet hit the South Tower just as Chief Feehan and the other chiefs with him reached the scene. Part of the jet's landing gear slammed into the street just ahead of them. Peel sections of the airplane along with body parts rained down on.

The trek through the concourse to the North Tower was no less dangerous. People had already begun jumping out the windows from the high floors. A firefighter named Daniel Shurer was struck and killed by one of them.

The lobby in the North Tower was controlled chaos. Chiefs had already begun sending fire companies up the stairs as a steady stream of civilians came down. The first fire officer on scene at the Trade Center that day was Battalion Chief Joe Pfeiffer. The French film crew had been shadowing Pfeiffer that morning for a documentary.

Jules Naudet would go on to record some of the most dramatic footage ever shot for any documentary. One of the companies that Pfeiffer sent up the stairs was Engine 33 where his brother Kevin was the lieutenant. The brothers said a few words to each other before Kevin entered the stairwell.

It would be the last time they talked. Though the amount of fire officer experience in the North Tower was astounding, none of them had ever encountered anything close to what they were experiencing. At one point Chief Ray Downey, a special operations chief and a nationally known collapse expert, looked at Commissioner Von Essen and told him that the buildings could come down.

Not even Downey, however, expected them to do so as quickly as they would. After some time in the lobby, Chief Vien and several others left looking for a more suitable command center location. Those setting up in the lobby was protocol for high-rise fires. The location and the fact that most of the building and inter-department communication was failing allowed the chief very little awareness of what was happening 90 floors above them. Many in the lobby didn't even know the South Tower was hit by a second jet.

They found a suitable location on West Street, the thoroughfare that ran on the west side of the trade center. From there Chief Vien and the others had their first look at the entire scene. What they witnessed shocked them like a pair of giant Roman candles the tops of both towers were engulfed in smoke and flame. From the windows of those high floors came dozens and dozens of jumpers who had made the unthinkable decision. As they set up magnetic command boards and handy talking communications, Chief Vien looked up at the South Tower again and saw what he thought looked like twinkling Christmas lights surrounding the building. Those lights turned out to be the tall windows pulverizing as the building began to collapse. Though it later was estimated that the building came down at a rate of 120 miles an hour, it seemed as though the collapse was in slow motion.

The implosion sent chunks of steel and cement hurtling outwardly, followed by a deadly wall of debris and dust. In the 2009 documentary 9-11, Phone Calls from the Tower, the late great columnist for the New York Times Jim Dwyer called the 78th floor in the South Tower the bridge point between the living and the dead. There was a transfer floor for the elevator banks to the lobby. After the hijacked airliner hit the North Tower, people who worked in the upper floors of the South Tower had masts on the 78th floor hoping to evacuate.

When United 175 crashed into the South Tower, the tip of the wing of the jet sliced through the 78th floor like a sieve, killing and injuring scores of people. One of the recordings from that documentary was from Chief Oriopamik. He had radio that he encountered a number of 1045 code ones, the department designation for civilian fatalities. That would be the last radio communication from Chief Palmer. Meanwhile, the North Tower lobby shook violently. Father Judge, who had always been a rock of faith at fire scenes, walked in a kind of trance, his lips moving in prayer. At some point, he looked up at the ceiling that had started to split.

Jesus, please end this now, he yelled. The chiefs in the West Street command post ran into the building loading dock for cover. With the power of a hurricane gust, the wall of debris practically lifted them off the ground as they did. Some escaped into the building.

Chief Vianen, chief of the department, Gancy, found their way back out to the street. They looked across West Street in disbelief. The mighty South Tower of the Trade Center was gone. And in its place lay 111 stories of twisted steel and chunks of cement.

In the North Tower lobby, Father Judge's body lay where he had asked his Lord for help. The collapse had almost completely destroyed the Marriott Hotel adjacent to the tower. Inside, crews and firefighters were trapped or killed.

Chief Vianen held one of the few working Handy Talkies. He began directing a rescue operation for those in the hotel. Chief Gancy and Ray Downey had joined them.

Within minutes, the unthinkable began to happen again. It took some time after the collapse of the North Tower for the search and rescue teams to climb the mountain of steel and cement to reach the location of the West Street command center. As they searched, the firefighters saw something glinting in a layer of dust. It was a helmet, white, with a gold front piece that read First Deputy Commissioner. At one point, when Chief Vianen was still in the North Tower lobby, Commissioner Van Essen had approached him and told him he wanted him somewhere safe. The bill was 71, about to be 72, and the commissioner thought he was too old to be in such a dangerous situation. In remembering the moment much later, Van Essen can still imagine the incredulous look on his first deputy's face as he said those words. For 41 years and counting, Chief Vianen had run into burning buildings not away from him.

It wasn't about to start now. A student of American history, Bill Vianen was a fan of General George S. Patton's poetry. In the General's poem, Through a Glass Darkly, he wrote, So forever in the future shall I battle as of yore, dying to be born a fighter, but to die again once more. The kind of heroism owned by Chief Vianen and all firefighters who sacrificed their lives on the fire field can't die.

They must live on from generation to generation and those brave enough to answer the sirens call. Chief Vianen was the highest ranking member of the FDNY killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. Though a firefighter with a career like few others perished in the rubble of the Trade Center that day, the hero among heroes, the Chief's legacy would live on. In the late 1980s, the Chief's daughter Tara would meet Brian Daven. Brian would graduate from the academy just before they got married in September of 89. Along with John Vianen, Brian would respond to the World Trade Center just after the towers fell.

In the aftermath of the attack, he was promoted to lieutenant, then captain and finally battalion chief as the department sought to rebuild. Along the way, he and Tara would have three children. The oldest, Connor, would follow his father's footsteps into the FDNY. Like his great grandfather, William Patrick Vianen, nearly 100 years before, Connor works in an engine company in a very busy house. And like William Patrick, more times than not, when the bell rings, Connor's on the nozzle running it into a burning building.

And so it goes for 96 years and counting. The Fians and the Davins have fought fire and lived lives of quiet heroism. And a terrific job on the editing and storytelling by David Wilde. And thanks to author Brian McDonald, his book, Five Floors Up, the heroic family story of four generations in the FDNY. It's a piece of New York history, certainly a piece of fire department history. It's an Irish immigrant story, too. In the end, it's a story of heroism and public service.

The story of the Fian family here on Our American Stories. Nissan's electric vehicles run on a special electricity, not the electricity that turns on light bulbs or runs through your outlets. I'm talking that spine tingling goose bump feeling that electrifies your body and soul. It could be the simple win of leaving on time for your morning commute or scoring the largest deal of your career. Nissan is continuously evolving and changing the game through electric vehicle engineering, because the electricity of their cars not only moves engines, it also moves the emotions of those who drive them.

To learn more about Nissan's electric vehicle lineup, visit www.NissanUSA.com. Get ready to wake up to Sunday morning football because the NFL is back across the pond with two huge matchups. How do you like that? We're talking Jags, Bills. You gotta love this team.

And Ravens, Titans. This place is on fire. So set your alarm.

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Again. Millions are swooning over The Golden Bachelor. The LA Times raves, the series is a love story years in the making. Glamour Magazine exclaims, there's no expiration date on romance. This is must-see TV.

The Golden Bachelor premieres tomorrow on ABC and stream next day on Hulu. So you're commuting to work again. Welcome back.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-03 01:23:12 / 2023-10-03 01:44:43 / 22

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