Capt. John Jonas, Firefighters Matt Komorowski, Tommy Falco, Sal D'Agostino, Bill Butler, and Mike Meldrum
There were many acts of heroism performed by members of the Fire Department of the City of New York on the morning of September 11, 2001.
When the first airliner struck one of the World Trade Center towers, Capt. John Jonas, Firefighters Matt Komorowski, Tommy Falco, Sal D'Agostino, Bill Butler, and Mike Meldrum were on duty at L-6 on Canal Street, close enough to hear the crash and explosion.
The men of L-6 were on the scene within minutes and ran into the lobby of 1 World Trade Center as debris fell from the upper floors and victims lay on the ground
As they surveyed the situation, the second airliner found its target, and the men entered a stairway to begin rescue operations on the upper floors.
As they reached the 27th Floor, the first tower collapsed, sending shockwaves through Tower 1. Informed of the collapse, Capt. Jonas ordered the men down, rightly thinking that their location was also in peril of collapse.
On their way down the stairway, they encountered Josephine Harris, who had worked her way down from the 73rd Floor.
"I could hear the clock ticking in the back of my head," Capt. Jonas said later. The men had to keep moving, but Ms. Harris was exhausted after her descent, and she collapsed as the group reached one of the lower stairwells.
"You've got to pick up the pace," they told her, reminding her of the family and friends that waited for her outside of the disaster area.
As they urged her on, air rushed through the stairway, and the building collapsed. Firefighter Matt Komorowski, who was last in the line, was thrown two flights down, and the men of L-6, Ms. Harris, two other firefighters, a Port Authority police officer and a Fire Department chief, Rich Picciotta, were trapped -- all alive, but disoriented by the dust and debris around the them.
Maydays went over their radios, but there was no response. No one was coming to their aid in the North Tower stairway, and they could only imagine the destruction that lay beyond their dark sanctuary.
After approximately thirty minutes, their calls were received by a rescue team, but, with no landmarks to guide them, the team could not determine their exact location.
It took almost three hours before dust began to settle, and the men now saw daylight through holes in the debris. The enormity of the disaster began to hit home, but, through one of the holes, they spotted a fellow firefighter from L-43, and the rescue operation began.
As they reached the outside, they realized the full extent of what had happened. If they had been above or below their location in the stairwell, if Josephine Harris had moved faster or slower, they would have all certainly perished. "It was a freak of timing," Capt. Jonas said later. "We know the people below us didn't fare well. Above, to my knowledge, none got out. God gave us the courage and strength to save her, and unknowingly, we were saving ourselves."
In recommending the men of L-6 for one of this year's Bravest Awards,
Battalion Chief John Salka wrote, "These men put their lives on the line by all staying with Josephine Harris and should be recognized for their actions on that fateful day."
We are proud to bestow one of this year's Awards on Capt.John Jonas, Firefighters Matt Komorowski, Tommy Falco, Sal D'Agostino, Bill Butler, and Mike Meldrum, remembering, too, that their actions stand as a symbol for the many acts of bravery that were performed by the firefighters of the City of New York on a day that shook the world.