Yale students at a Wednesday Calhoun College Master’s Tea heard two heroes from the New York Fire Department — Paul Iannizzotto and Michael Gomez — speak about their experiences in the rescue and recovery work during and following the World Trade Center terror attacks.
Iannizzotto, who has served in the FDNY for 13 years, was helping to direct rescue efforts at Ground Zero when the second plane hit, and continued to organize efforts after the towers collapsed. Mike Gomez, a specialist in one of the FDNY’s elite rescue units, was on vacation on Sept. 11, 2001, but returned to the city shortly after the attacks. Both men said they spent considerable time searching for victims among the debris.
“We needed to be there, but we didn’t want to be there” Iannizzotto said.
Iannizzotto was at the rescue command and control center set up in the northern tower after the first plane hit. When the fire department decided to move the command and control center to a nearby Marriott Hotel, Iannizzotto said the trek from the original site was a harrowing experience.
“We couldn’t make it directly over to the Marriott because of falling bodies, so we had to find an alternative route,” Iannizzotto said.
On the way to establish the new command center, the first tower collapsed, isolating Iannizzotto’s group in a field of debris.
Gomez was on vacation in Orlando during the attacks and returned several days later to participate in the recovery efforts. He described the process as frustrating because it was so difficult to find any physical evidence of the vast number of lost lives.
“At places there was a 10-to-1 compression ratio, which means that several floors could be compressed into less then a foot,” Gomez said. “We would search and search, and find nothing.”
Both men spoke positively about their experience within the fire department and urged Yale students to enter public service.
“In the fire department, you create bonds that you normally don’t see in other organizations” Iannizzotto said. “The intensity of the work and the necessity of relying on other people form those bonds.”
The students at the tea expressed gratitude for the FDNY’s efforts and said they appreciated the personal insights the talk gave to the events of Sept. 11.
Carly Keidel ’05 said the firefighters’ personal accounts were stories everyone should hear.
“I think it is really important to get a view from someone who was involved,” Keidel said.
Students said they were also struck by the brotherhood among the members of the fire department.
“I was really impressed by the fact that they were sacrificing for everyone else, as well as their sense of camaraderie,” Amsalu Dabela ’04 said.
After all, it was the bonds between the firefighters that made the attacks so painful, Iannizzotto said.
“Firemen eat together, sleep together, live together and die together,” he said.