EXTRACT FROM DIVISION 7 TRAINING AND SAFETY NEWSLETTER FEBRUARY 2018
The other group of firefighters was led by Fr. Raymond Brown. He sized up the collapse and intuitively thought that the best chance of finding the trapped firefighters was to start tunneling through the front rubble and follow the stretched hose line. Fr. Brown started working from the front of the building. Lieutenant Alexy left one other firefighter with Fr. Brown. The other firefighter left Fr. Brown to go assist the firefighters working with the jack hammers in the “Blarney Stone Bar” (exposure 4). Fr. Brown was working by himself.
Fr. Raymond Brown went back to Rescue 1’s apparatus and obtained a chain saw. He cut a “Kerf Cut” in the knee high wall that was below the show window. He then started tunneling into the rubble. Historical Note: The circular “Partner Saw” was not put in-service in the FDNY until 1967.
Shortly after the rescue efforts began, two firefighters were found in the front of the building. Rubble was removed allowing the rescue to happen. One of the firefighters, Fr. Fred Weiss had a broken leg. He fell from the roof to the third floor. Seven Firefighters were still unaccounted for and presumed trapped. As it turns out, the trapped Firefighters were trapped in a “V” shaped void deep into the building.
Firefighter Brown tunneled his way into the rubble. He kept searching for the trapped firefighters until he made voice contact with them. He kept digging by hand and using hand tools. He removed some more rubble and uncovered the eye of Fr. Robert Siddons looking at him. He freed him from the rubble and removed him. The tunnel was twenty feet from the front of the building. The time was 2320 hours. The cries of “Get us out of here” were heard. Fr. Brown shouted back to them: “Don’t worry, we’ll get to you! We’ll get to you!
Soon after making voice contact with the trapped men, a violent gas explosion from a leaking gas line occurred. The floor beams below Fr. Brown failed and he fell about four feet. Fr. Brown extricated himself and he crawled out of the tunnel to re-group. Orders were given to shut the curb valve in the street.
Fr. Ray Brown re-entered the tunnel before the gas was shut down. He knew that the fate of the other trapped firefighters required the digging and searching to continue. Fr. Brown quickly made his way back into the tunnel where he was working before. Lieutenant Alexy kept making his way into the tunnel to provide shoring for Fr. Brown’s efforts.
As Fr. Ray Brown was digging, orders were being shouted from the street to “get out” of the building. Those in the street were fearful of the front wall of the building collapsing. The front wall is a nonbearing wall and is inherently less stable than a bearing wall. Firefighter Brown returned to the street again.
Firefighter Ray Brown from Rescue 1 received permission to re-enter the tunnel and dig for the trapped firefighters. He made his way to where he was before and was able to dig deeper. Fr. Brown used saws to cut through the timbers. The rubble above him shifted and came down toward Fr. Brown. This secondary collapse was due to the cutting and vibration from the tunneling operation. Fr. Brown continued to cut and tunnel his way in. His dogged efforts were bringing him closer the trapped firefighters.
The rescue effort was in full swing. Firefighter Ray Brown was tunneling in from the exposure 1 side of the building going deeper and deeper into the rubble. The breaching operation from the Blarney Stone Bar was slow because the bearing walls in both buildings had to be breached. By the time the breaching operation had been completed, Fr. Brown had tunneled past their location.
Firefighter Brown’s efforts were paying off. He found several trapped firefighters. He found the second trapped firefighter at 2330 hours. He found the third at 2343 hours. He found the fourth at 2345 hours. He found the fifth at 2346 hours. He found the sixth at 2347 hours. He grabbed and dragged each firefighter through the tunnel he created. He made six trips into the collapsed rubble to drag the trapped firefighters to the sidewalk.
At around 2335 hours, the third and fourth floors collapsed. This caused great anxiety because the rescuing and tunneling operations were in full swing when secondary collapse occurred. The trapped firefighters were being dragged out of the rubble at this time.
There was one firefighter that was still trapped; Harry Fay. The sixth firefighter that was rescued told Fr. Ray Brown that Fr. Fay was still in there. Firefighter Fay was trapped under broken timbers and debris. He was entangled in a large heater that had to be cut in order to extricate him. He was about 50 feet deep into the building. The rescue effort was focused on tunneling in to the rubble from the street. The rescuing Firefighters braced the 3 foot x 4 foot tunnel as they went. The tunnel began filling with smoke from the still smoldering fire.
Firefighter Harry Fay was found in the rubble. He was stunned and buried in rubble and in a large heater. No other firefighters were allowed into the rubble due to fear of the tunnel collapsing. Lieutenant Erwin Alexy of Rescue 1 came into the tunnel to assist Fr. Brown. Fr. Ray Brown was near exhaustion. Lieutenant Alexy relieved Fr. Brown on a “Sawzall Saw”. Fr. Brown remained in the tunnel to assist Lieutenant Alexy. Finally, Fr. Harry Fay was freed after Fr. Brown cut off Fr. Harry Fay’s boot. He was dragged out to the street by Fr. Brown and Lieutenant Alexy.
The rescue effort to find and dig out the trapped firefighters took over three hours. Much of the three hour rescue effort was performed while Fr. Brown was laying in the rubble in either a prone or supine position cutting and digging by hand. Fr. Ray Brown could not turn around in the tunnel, the area was too small. When he had to return to the front of the building with a trapped firefighter, he had to back out of the tunnel.