"As I descended deeper into the wreckage of the fallen Twin Towers, the weight of the disaster felt heavier with each step. The chaos and destruction that surrounded me was overwhelming, but I couldn't let it stop me from searching for survivors. I pushed myself to the limits, navigating through rubble and debris in search of any signs of life. But as the days went on and our search efforts intensified, the reality began to sink in. There were no more survivors waiting to be rescued. The sole survivor and some self-rescued fire department members were the only ones who had made it out alive. Every other soul was taken in the blink of an eye. As I stand here in the midst of this heart-wrenching devastation, I am filled with both sorrow and pride in the bravery of all those who lost their lives."
Firefighter Ed Walsh deep in Elevator rails trying to access elevators.
Captain Vomero, Firefighter Walsh entering the site: "Stepping into the disaster zone, the iconic Woolworth Building can be seen in the background. Once renowned as the tallest building in the world, designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, it stands tall at 233 Broadway in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood. Despite its impressive height of 792 feet (241 m), the building was not immune to the destruction caused by the attacks just blocks away. With its windows shattered and top turret damaged from falling debris, the Woolworth Building was left without electricity, water, and telephone service for several weeks after the tragic events."
Capt Russell Vomero FF Ed Walsh Squad41 FDNY Special operations command
"The very air we breathed at the site was charged with danger and uncertainty, with each passing day becoming more treacherous. Questions swirled about the potential presence of chemical weapons, radiation, and other explosive hazards. Despite the fear that threatened to overwhelm us, the members of the squad, including the fearless Steve Gillespie, remained steadfast in our determination.
I caught Steve's gaze, searching for a glimpse of reassurance in his eyes. I returned his look with a nod, my own unspoken message of support. I reached for my camera, capturing this moment in time, a testament to our bravery and resolve.
As we pressed forward into the unknown, the reality of our situation began to sink in. I turned to survey the area behind us, only to find it deserted and eerily quiet. I was alone, yet I refused to be deterred. I was driven by a fierce commitment to the mission and a steadfast resolve to bring our fallen brothers home."
Capt. Russell Vomero Firefighter Stephen Gillespie entering the disaster zone September 2001
As we approached the site, the acrid smell of smoke and concrete filled our senses. The remnants of two once towering structures lay before us, now reduced to rubble and ash. Despite the destruction, the South Tower's facade stood steadfast, its refusal to fall a symbol of hope and resilience. Yet the job of NY heavy equipment operators was not without peril. Operating in dangerous conditions, they had to navigate through the treacherous landscape, and with each step, they placed themselves in harm's way. Our minds were consumed with a singular focus - to delve into the depths of the wreckage, searching for any signs of life. With each scoop of rubble, we clung to the fragile hope that someone might still be surviving amidst the chaos, but we were acutely aware of the inherent dangers faced by these brave operators.
NY heavy equipment operators the heart and soul of the operation
As I handed the camera to my colleague, I couldn't help but feel a sense of awe at the enormity of the destruction before me. The heat was palpable, a force in and of itself, causing the soles of my boots to melt beneath me as I stepped onto the beam. The heat was so intense that I could barely catch my breath, as it felt like an unrelenting wind, pushing against me with ferocity. I needed to get a closer look, to fully grasp the magnitude of what had happened. It was a dangerous and sobering moment, Ed new he had to get the shot, to capture the truth of this tragedy for future generations. And so, I pushed on, braving the heat and the danger, to get a better look at what had become of this once proud city.
Gibson Gibby Craig An iconic photo from the 9/11 terrorist's attacks
Staring into the abyss of destruction, Firefighter Ed Walsh of Squad 41 FDNY gazed upon the site that was once the pulsing heart of New York's financial and business hub. Located many stories below the Trade Center, he peered into the crater, searching for any sign of life or human remains amidst the smoldering rubble. He couldn't help but think of the last moments of his fallen brothers, the terror they must have felt as they were engulfed by the disaster. That thought, that haunting memory, was seared into his mind forever.
FF. Ed Walsh scans the scene for any signs of life
"We knew it was going to be a very risky search, but everything was at that time Gibson "Gibby" Craig recalls: "I remember this was Friday the 14th or Saturday morning the 15th. The shock and exhaustion had not yet completely settled in. Another one of our members had found a void that extended down to the depths of the bottom of the pile. He had made a quick search and then organized us to go down for a more extensive search.
On the morning of the 12th, I had picked up a disposable camera in a nearby pharmacy, where we were getting medical supplies. I put it in my pocket, and on that day, I pulled it out.
We knew the search was going to be dangerous, but I was numb to that fact at that time. In the previous two or three days, I had seen and experienced things that no human being should ever go through.
Moreover, the stress of facing my friend's wife and father had triggered a physical response of vomiting, which lasted for three hours and only stopped when I was able to get back to the scene.
Just minutes before the photo, we had taken a permanent marker and written our Social Security numbers on our arms and legs, doing it matter-of-factly. I passed the marker to a volunteer firefighter from California, who just shook his head and walked away.
As I descended, I gave the camera to a nervous coworker, thinking it may keep him occupied and his mind off of the possible outcomes. He took the shot, and as I look at it now, I can clearly see everything I have described here in my face, including and predominantly the thought that this may be the last image my children see of me alive.
It's hard to be a survivor after seeing so many friends die on one day and knowing the concept of fate. Fate is now defined differently for me. It is no longer just a concept formed by seeing pictures and watching videos. To know that their fate could have been mine changed everything about how I perceive my life, the world, and the heavens when I imagine my friends' moments before their death. Fate is the toss of the coin, or fate IS the coin. Two sides: life and death. My side was life that day. This is hard to live with. It's hard to carry that coin in your pocket, as it will always be there, with the other side of the coin always present, weighing heavy in your pocket.
I think that's why it was easy for me to go into that hole."
Gibby heading into another extremely dangerous search
"This photo tells a deep and dangerous story. We were deep inside Ground Zero, surrounded by intense heat and smoke. The smell was indescribable. After just a few days, we had learned to recognize elevator rails, a sign that people could have been trapped inside. In this image, the twisted steel beams are elevator rails, and we were determined to find them. We knew the importance of finding closure for families who were waiting for news. We were willing to risk deep danger to reach these elevators. Nothing was going to stop us."
Ed Walsh, Lt Charles Schmid Squad 41 FDNY
Stevie T's prowess on the fire ground was unparalleled. He possessed the trifecta - a deep calling from the brotherhood, an immense knowledge of the job, and balls of steel. We found ourselves deep in the parking garage, where we had forced our way into a storage room crushed by the collapse of the towers. Steve was in there, just taking a peek, making sure there wasn't someone trapped in there. The image was scary and dangerous, captured on a disposable 35mm camera, now a relic of the dinosaur age. Stevie T's bravery and fearlessness were exemplary, and I will undoubtedly talk more about him in the future.
Lt Steven Turilli Rescue 1 FDNY
"As I took a moment to catch my breath and rehydrate, I was handed a camera by a colleague. We snapped a few quick pictures of each other, with the ominous facade of the South Tower serving as the backdrop. To some, it may have appeared as a tombstone, but to me it stood as a symbol of resilience and hope. However, beyond the facade lay a scene of utter horror and danger, with rubble, debris, and the constant threat of further collapse. Yet, despite the devastating events that occurred, the façade refused to fall, embodying the determination and strength of those who persevered through the tragedy."
Ed Walsh Ground
Zero September 2001
Quick respite for water: "The fearless Gibson Craig stood amidst the chaos of Ground Zero. With his extensive skill, training, and experience, he was one of the few with the courage to carry out the treacherous operations at the site. Amidst the twisted and bent elevator rails, and the unbearable heat, he was determined to find any signs of life or the elevators themselves, bringing closure to the families of victims and fellow firefighters. His bravery and unwavering spirit shone through, even in the most trying of circumstances."
Gibson "Gibby" Craig
Ground Zero September 2001
As I looked out at the Marriott hotel after the 9/11 attacks in NYC, the devastation was apparent. The hotel was nearly 250 feet tall and on September 11th, there were 940 registered guests. Additionally, the National Association for Business Economics was holding their convention there. Sadly, 40 people lost their lives that day, many of whom were firefighters and hotel employees. Despite this, over 900 people were successfully evacuated before the collapsing tower crushed the 250-foot structure down to less than 40 feet.
As a result of the collapse of the Twin Towers, the hotel was completely destroyed. Only a small, four-story section of the building remained standing, which was later removed. In the remnants of the lobby, picture frames with their pictures still hung on the walls.
Red spray paint marks the dangerous voids that we entered and searched, sparing fu teams the danger
The view from the depths of Ground Zero was perilous, as I, an FDNY member, stood in the parking garage 6 stories below the fallen Twin Towers. The air was thick with dust and smoke, making it difficult to see much of anything. But still, I looked up towards the towering pile of rubble and debris, searching for any sign of life. The hope of finding survivors amidst the chaos was what kept us going, even as the reality of the situation began to set in.
We were equipped with basic firefighting gear to protect us from the hazardous materials that filled the air, but it was a challenging environment to work in. The sound of metal shifting and creaking echoed throughout the garage as we made our way towards the pile. We used what we had, listening for any sounds that could indicate that someone was still alive.
The search was slow and methodical, and we had to be careful as we made our way through the unstable rubble. The weight of the buildings was immense, and the danger of further collapse was always present. But still, we continued to search, driven by the hope of finding someone alive.
As the days passed, the hope of finding survivors dwindled, but our determination to help in any way we could remained steadfast. The view from the depths of Ground Zero was a difficult one, but it was also a testament to the bravery and strength of those who were there, working to find anyone who may have survived.
A view out from six story's below
Reflecting on this image of Gibson Craig and me, the juggernaut behind me, it's just an understatement to say he had our backs. Gibson was not just a good friend, he was the best of friends and an example to all of us, not just as a firefighter, but as a human being. Six months prior to this photo, Gibson was in Harlem, alone in a shitty, fire-filled hallway, pulling a woman out to safety. This is what the man does, he's a hero.
Let me tell you, Derek Jeter is a great guy, a great athlete, a hero on the field, but it's just not the same case. Football players and athletes are put up on pedestals, nice people most of the time, but they're no Gibson Craig. The man has been through hell and back, a father, a grandfather, a legend. Enough said.
And this image, this very image, was taken in one of the most dangerous areas of the World Trade Center amidst the heat, smoke, and caustic mix of gases. It captures the essence of the danger we faced every day as firefighters, risking our lives to save others. History will preserve this image of Gibson Craig and me on the blockchain forever, a reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of all those who served on 9/11.
FF Gibson "Gibby" Craig FF Ed Walsh Squad 41 FDNY
As I looked out at the pile of steel left after the 9/11 attacks in NYC, the sight was overwhelming. The steel was so mangled that it seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. Some beams were still too hot to traverse. Each tower weighed more than 250,000 tons and had 99 elevators and 21,800 windows. The North Tower was 1,368 feet tall and 1,730 feet tall with its large antenna. The South Tower stood 1,362 feet tall. On a clear day, it was possible to see over 40 miles from the tower's rooftop observatory.
An insurmountable mountain of hot mangled steel
In the early days after 9/11/01, the FDNY faced intense conditions at the site of the disaster. Images from that time show the smoke and heat pouring out of the site like a furnace. The men of Tower Ladder 21 were there for various reasons. They were looking for any sign of life, using their water cannon to suppress the dust and caustic mix of concrete, glass, and other unknown substances. They were also there to push back the heat and fire. Imagine being up there for hours, knowing what you had to do. They were there to back up those of us who were going in on foot and determined to do everything in our power to find survivors or victims.
Tower Ladder 21 protecting the Heavy Equipment operators as well as the Brothers
Amidst the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the remains of the North and South Towers presented a perilous landscape. Mangled structural steel protruded dangerously, with some beams still too hot to traverse. The sheer weight of each tower, more than 250,000 tons, and the number of elevators and windows, 99 and 21,800 respectively, only added to the chaos. The North Tower rose to a height of 1,368 feet and the South Tower to 1,362 feet, and on a clear day, one could see over 40 miles from the rooftop observatory. However, the clear skies were now shrouded with a toxic smoke, the result of hundreds of tons of concrete, glass, and other substances being pulverized into dust and mixed with unknown toxic substances. The air was thick with heat, making it a hazardous environment for all who dared to enter.
Mangled structural steel protruding dangerously, some beams still too hot to traverse.
"The search for survivors in the aftermath of 9/11 took us to the depths of the fallen towers, including the 107-level underground parking garage. Amidst the chaos of concrete and steel, we held onto the hope that someone, somehow, had survived. But as we ventured deeper into the crater, the dangers of our search became increasingly apparent. Twisted metal and unstable debris threatened our every step as we pushed the limits of our physical and mental endurance in search of any sign of life. Despite our efforts, no one was found alive in the depths of the underground parking garage, a haunting reminder of the devastating loss suffered on that fateful day."
A Government vehicle dangles perilously
"Holding On to Hope" - this image captured the palpable fear and uncertainty of the moment. Amid the rubble of the fallen World Trade Center, a lone steel column stood as a testament to the sheer strength and endurance of the human spirit. The same ironworkers who had erected these beams years prior, now playing a crucial role in the recovery and closure of the tragedy. The image captures the very real fear of what lay beyond the steel - a descent into the afterlife, where their fallen brothers and sisters awaited. But, as it turned out, the same ironworkers and unions that built the World Trade Center were instrumental in its recovery and closure. They brought with them a sense of hope, a belief that, with their skill and determination, they could rise from the ashes and rebuild. It's a testament to the unwavering strength and resilience of the human spirit. And we are grateful, so very grateful, for the ironworkers who were there, who stood tall and kept the operation moving forward.
a lone steel column stood as a testament to the sheer strength and endurance of the human spirit
"As Captain of Squad 41, Russel Vomero had seen and survived many dangerous situations in his 20 years of service with the FDNY's special operations command. On September 11, 2001, he lost all six of his fellow firefighters from his firehouse, and had worked with over 100 others who were lost that day. But in the face of such tragedy, he remained steadfast and strong, leading his team with bravery and determination. In this moment, he stands watchful and vigilant, overseeing the dangerous operation being conducted by Ed Walsh and Gibby Craig in the heart of Ground Zero. With his keen eyes, he balances his focus between the two, always at the ready to step in and ensure their safety in this unpredictable and perilous environment." I made the mistake of asking the Chief for help and then he says "what are your men doing on this part of the pile, get the hell off of there!"
Captain Russell Vomero Overseeing his men