On September 11, 2001, Robert Bartos, a fireman for fifteen years, was a Fire Lieutenant with Ladder Company 3 in Bayonne New Jersey. Currently, a Fire Captain, he easily recalls that tragic time as it was only yesterday.
His department recalled all available members to work on the morning of 9/11/01. The information about the attack unfolded very slowly and the members waited impatiently to be called to action. The department set up a triage area by the Bayonne Coast Guard Station and waited for victims to be ferried to the site, but they did not get a single person.
Bayonne fire fighters watched on the television and helplessly listened to radio transmissions as the dispatched alarms quickly increased. Upwards three hundred FDNY firefighters were dispatched to the North Tower and then another three hundred were dispatched to the South Tower. Then increased to a 10 alarm responds for each building. It was an apparent indication that this was a serious situation. Robert described the frantic radio transmissions by the Manhattan fire dispatcher and after the Towers collapsed there was total silence on the FDNY Manhattan radio frequency. A Bronx Division Chief responding to the scene became the new Incident Commander. "We knew that everyone was buried." An executive order issued from the New Jersey Governor's office on September 11 stated that no emergency responders from New Jersey were allowed to report to Ground Zero and everyone was to remain on stand-by in their respect cities if another attack was to occur.
Robert and his brother, also a fireman, spent the evening at their mother's home in Bayonne. He recalls how the typical evening noises of the city were absent, and there was an eerie silence. The members of the Bayonne Fire Department wanted to offer assistance to their fallen FDNY brothers at ground zero. On the morning of September 13th, a group of 30 plus off duty firemen met at a local baseball field and were met by a Chaplain to be blessed before the group forged on to Ground Zero via the Staten Island Ferry. Once their identification was verified and documented at the ferry slip they boarded the ferry for the 30 minute ride to Battery Park. After meeting with FDNY chiefs they were told to break up into small groups and report to the areas that were sprayed with orange paint. The orange paint indicated areas that the cadaver dogs had hit, indicating human remains. "We all just started digging for people. The person could have been six feet down from the surface under mounds of steel, concrete and debris." Robert remembers how many of the rescue workers had few tools to work with. They would fill 5 gallon plastic buckets with pieces of concrete and dig with their hands or whatever else they could find.
Robert's group met with the members of FDNY Engine 219. Engine 219's Lieutenant and crew found the body of a woman buried up to her head in debris. After digging for four hours from atop a mountain of rubble that was 30 feet high they were unable to liberate her complete body and had to amputate one of her legs to secure the majority of the remains for her family. The body was placed in a body bag and stretcher and both crews carried her over the rubble pile. The bodies that were found were taken to a makeshift morgue that was set up on Vesey Street. As they transported the woman through the American Express building, the group would be stopped multiple times for clergy of different denominations to bless the body. The medical examiner was in a holding area comprised of refrigerated tractor trailers set up for different groups (civilians, rescue workers, etc). The bodies were identified if possible and tagged. At one point during the process, Robert remembers stopping with his group to do a full hand salute to honor a deceased FDNY fireman being transported out.
Robert describes a memory later in the day where he and his crew worked on recovery efforts of a crushed FDNY Ladder 10. This truck was the first due ladder company to the World Trade Center on September 11. They were told that witnesses seen 4 FDNY fire fighters jumped under the truck went the buildings were collapsing. His crew worked with the Captain and chauffer of Ladder 10 on cutting through the rig in an attempt to take it apart to find the fire fighters who were under the truck. Workers from the New Jersey Urban Search and Rescue joined the small group and assisted in the rescue effort. They found some powers tools that were being brought to the site and it helped with further rescue efforts. Robert states that they recovered hand tools from Ladder 10. The tools were bent or melted from the collapse and in suing heat and weight of the buildings. The tools are mounted in the quarters of Engine 10 and Ladder10.
After working endlessly through the night, Robert and his crew were ordered by a Ladder 10's Captain at 1 a.m. to take a break at the Ladder 10 firehouse. He and his crew thanked us for all our efforts to locate the firefighters under the rig. The group was able to clean up and to be fed by a kind Italian woman from the neighborhood who was cooking for the firefighters. The crew was then bussed to Staten Island and headed back to Bayonne.
Robert remembers back in the early 70's going to New York with his family to watch the World Trade Center Towers being built. He states, "It was hard to fathom what happened, it was such a shock. You hope you never have to see something like that again."