NY Fireman Lou Cacchioli Says 9/11 Commission Twisted His Words
CACCHIOLI AND ENGINE CO. 47 ARRIVE ON THE SCENE
When Company 47 arrived with Cacchioli leading the way as the senior member of the crew, the second plane had already hit the south tower and they were told to head directly to the Marriot Hotel across from the WTC, since a fire was blazing form debris falling from the towers. Cacchioli recalls hearing radio reports of "people jumping" and when he got closer to the Marriot, the reports turned into reality.
"I looked up and there were about 6 to 10 people flying through the air coming down right on us," said Cacchioli. "It was horrible when they hit the ground, something you had to turn your eyes away from."
One of the jumpers landed directly on fireman Danny Sur, killing him on the spot. I remember saying, 'Oh my God, what are we getting into?'"
Cacchioli then recalls entering the Marriot, trying to lead "the kids" as he called them, adding that words could not describe the screaming and chaos within.
"There was debris flying everywhere and it was just mass chaos," said Cacchioli. "At that point, orders were changing fast and furious and our company was directed to lend assistance in the north tower."
CACCHIOLI AND CREW ENTER NORTH TOWER AND GO UP TO 24TH FLOOR
Although the Marriot was a bad scene, the north tower looked like a war zone. When he entered the lobby, Cacchioli recalls elevator doors completely blown out and another scene of mass chaos with people running, screaming and being hit with debris.
"I remember thinking to myself, my God, how could this be happening so quickly if a plane hit way above. It didn't make sense," said Cacchioli.
At that point, Cacchioli found one of the only functioning elevators, one only going as high as the 24th floor, a twist of fate that probably saved his life.
"Looking back if it was one of the elevators that went higher, I wouldn't be here talking today," added Cacchioli.
As he made his way up along with men from Engine Co. 21, 22 and Ladder Company 13, the doors opened on the 24th floor, a scene again that hardly made sense to the seasoned fireman, claiming the heavy dust and haze of smoke he encountered was unusual considering the location of the strike.
"Tommy Hedsal was with me and everybody else also gets out of the elevator when it stops on the 24th floor," said Cacchioli, "There was a huge amount of smoke. Tommy and I had to go back down the elevator for tools and no sooner did the elevators close behind us, we heard this huge explosion that sounded like a bomb. It was such a loud noise, it knocked off the lights and stalled the elevator.
"Luckily, we weren't caught between floors and were able to pry open the doors. People were going crazy, yelling and screaming. And all the time, I am crawling low and making my way in the dark with a flashlight to the staircase and thinking Tommy is right behind me.
"I somehow got into the stairwell, and there were more people there. When I began to try and direct down, another huge explosion like the first one hits. This one hits about two minutes later, although it's hard to tell, but I'm thinking, 'Oh. My God, these bastards put bombs in here like they did in 1993!'
"But still it never crossed my mind the building was going to collapse. I really only had two things on my mind and that was getting people out and saving lives. That's what I was trained for and that's what I was going to do.
"I remember at that point in the stairwell between the 23rd and 24th floor, I threw myself down on the steps because of the smoke. It was pitch black, I had my mask on and I was crawling down the steps until I found the door on the 23rd floor."
When Cacchioli entered the 23rd floor, he found a "little man" holding a handkerchief in front of his face and hiding under the standpipes on the wall, used for pumping water on the floor in case of fire. Leading the man by the arm, he then ran into a group down the hall of about 35 to 40 people, finding his way down the 23rd floor stairwell and beginning their descent to safety.
"Then as soon as we get in the stairwell, I hear another huge explosion like the other two. Then I heard bang, bang, bang - huge bangs - and surmised later it was the floors pan caking on top of one another. "I knew we had to get out of there fast and on the 12th floor a man even jumped on my back because he thought he couldn't make it any farther. Everybody was shocked and dazed and it was a miracle all of us got this far."
When the group led by Cacchioli finally made it to the lobby level, he was unable to open the door at first, the concussion of the explosions or perhaps the south tower falling, jamming the lobby door. Finally jarring it loose, the group entered the lobby finding total devastation with windows blown out and marble falling from the walls, but strangely no people. At that point, it was either left or right to an exit, Cacchioli, the man he originally found by the standpipes and another lady going right while the others went left, a move which by the grace of God saved his life.
"It seemed like every move I made that morning was the right move," said Cacchioli. "I should have been killed at least five times. The people that went left didn't make it out, but we came out alive on West Street."
OUTSIDE AND APPARENTLY OUT OF HARMS WAY
After making sure the two civilians were attended to, Cacchioli went to his fire truck finding Lance, the driver, who was attending to the truck and waiting for the crew to return.
Looking up at the north tower directly above, Cacchioli recalls not having the slightest idea when he exited that the south tower had already collapsed. He also remembers wondering about the fate of his crew members, the driver telling him two were missing and two others injured and already taken to the hospital.
"Next thing, we look up and see the tower collapsing. We saw it starting to come down fast, Lance running towards the water to safety and I headed down West Side Highway."
Cacchioli said he remembers looking back at the north tower antenna falling, at the same time trying to stay ahead of the huge ball of black smoke gaining ground. He then threw off his mask to make himself lighter, a move that allowed him to run faster and perhaps save his life, while eventually having to throw himself on the ground from the heavy sawdust-like air mixed with glass that was choking him to death and taking away his vision.
Landing in debris, he luckily fell by the wheels of another fire truck, another twist of fate that may have saved his life, where he then managed to find a compressed air breathing mask. He then passed out and recalls waking up some time later after another fireman pulled him to safety.
"I don't really know how much time passed, but once I felt better, I quickly went back to look for my friends and stayed till I couldn't walk anymore," said Cacchioli, who began crying when he talked about his close friend. "They finally found Tommy's body in the debris about 10 days later. I went back to Ground Zero every day for a long time, going AWOL, until I finally went to a doctor and was put on medical leave.
"They were very good about it. Everybody understood. It got to the point I couldn't breathe anymore, and I lost a lot of vision due to the broken glass getting into my eyes. Finally, the doctors told me in January 2002, I couldn't work and I remember feeling devastated like my whole world was coming to an end. "I couldn't tell this story for the longest time and I have to admit it is still difficult."
THE 2004 9/11 COMMISSION HEARINGS: WHAT A WAY TO TREAT A HERO!
Cacchioli was called to testify privately, but walked out on several members of the committee before they finished, feeling as though he was being interrogated and cross-examined rather than simply allowed to tell the truth about what occurred in the north tower on 9/11.
"My story was never mentioned in the final report and I felt like I was being put on trial in a court room," said Cacchioli. "I finally walked out. They were trying to twist my words and make the story fit only what they wanted to hear. All I wanted to do was tell the truth and when they wouldn't let me do that, I walked out. "It was a disgrace to everyone, the victims and the family members who lost loved ones. I don't agree with the 9/11 Commission. The whole experience was terrible."
HIS LIFE NOW
Cacchioli spends a majority of his spare time hanging around the firehouse, trying to stay in touch with the department he loves and trying to lend a hand to some of the younger kids in the department.
"I talk to the kids, and I want to make sure they are keeping up to snuff so they're ready if something happens," said Cacchioli, who also plays softball in the FDNY (Fire Department of New York) league, something he regularly did when he was on active duty. "I don't want to lose this connection because the fire department is a part of who I am and who I always will be."
Asked if he ever was pressured to keep quiet about his 9/11 experience, he added:
"Nobody has bothered me. I don't think I should be bothered. I know what happened that day and I know the whole truth hasn't come out yet. I have my own conscience, my own mind and no one, I mean no one, is going to force Lou Cacchioli to say something that didn't happen and wasn't the truth."