September 11 relived
The Final Run of Ladder Company 101
By Jim Lortz RN BSN Firefighter Ladder Company 101 retired
DEAL, NJ — Jim Lortz, a former New York City firefighter and Air Force Reserves flight nurse, has been a volunteer for the Jersey Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross for the past 12 years, along with his wife, Sandra. Throughout his impressive tenure as a volunteer, Jim has weathered many natural disasters, including the severe ice storms that pummeled rural Arkansas in January 2001. For nearly three weeks, Jim and Sandra worked in Arkansas shelters, administering aid to families already living in poverty who had lost their electricity, stored food, means of transportation and other necessities in the after effects of the storms.
Closer to home in New Jersey, Jim has set up numerous emergency shelters necessitated by hurricanes, tornados and even the cave-in of a nursing home. He has supported multiple community events, such as races, fundraisers and fireworks displays, by organizing first aid stations and coordinating on-site logistics.
But perhaps no other volunteer assignment hit as close to home as the recent comfort gatherings organized by the Red Cross for those who had lost loved ones in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Jim certainly fit the bill as someone who had been intimately affected by the tragedy. He is retired from FDNY Ladder Company 101, which is located in Brooklyn just minutes away from the World Trade Center. Jim's company lost seven firefighters on September 11.
When asked by the Red Cross to participate in the comfort gatherings for family members and friends of those killed on September 11, Jim readily accepted the volunteer assignment, as he has many times over the past 12 years. He says volunteering can make people feel better about themselves, especially in times of tragedy when disillusionment sets in. "We all have these images in our mind of September 11 and the World Trade Center," Jim relates, "and it can be very depressing. But we're all in the same boat; everyone's been affected by the tragedy. But I find that if you get up in the morning and go out and volunteer, it helps you feel a little better."
Below Jim thinks back on the events of September in an essay he has entitled, "The Final Run of Ladder Company 101."
As I watched the unbelievable events of Sept 11 unfold, my mind raced to comprehend what was happening. Seeing the gaping holes, red-orange rolling fire, black smoke and people jumping and clinging desperately out of broken windows was something none of us will ever forget.
I am retired from FDNY Ladder Company 101, located only five minutes away from the World Trade Center on the Brooklyn side of the Battery Tunnel. I also completed all of my nursing education at nearby Hunter College Bellevue School of Nursing while assigned to this company.
Five other men assigned to Ladder Company 101 were enrolled in the nursing program, and together we spent countless hours studying for exams. Nurses and firefighters seem to be relatively compatible; many firefighters, including myself, are married to nurses. Nurses and firefighters share a common bond in that both jobs exist for one purpose - to help people. When the crisis hit on September 11, how I wished I could have been there to help.
As the disaster unfolded in front of my unbelieving eyes, I realized the men from Ladder Company 101 already would have responded and all of them would be in mortal danger due to the potential for loss of life. The response and fire fighting operations for any major or minor World Trade Center disaster were methodically worked out long ago. Part of this plan was for Ladder Company 101 to be first due on the second alarm. Thus I knew the firefighters from Ladder 101 would be at the World Trade Center and going up into the building for search and rescue.
Simply put, you can't make rescues from outside on the ground, so you go in and you go up. People are trapped and jumping, and when you're a fire fighter, you've got to help them. The men from Ladder Company 101 went in knowing they were putting themselves in mortal danger but were compelled to rescue as many individuals as possible.
This is not to say that fire fighters race blindly into dangerous situations. I assure you that the New York City Fire Department is the best fire department in the world and has incredibly detailed plans regarding fighting high-rise fires in general and World Trade Center fires in particular. Fire fighters know what they are doing, but no operations plan ever could have prepared them for this. Take two planes fully loaded with JP4 jet fuel, crash them into the heart of the World Trade Center, and no fire suppression system or firefighting plan ever could contain, let alone put out, a fire of this magnitude.
As it turned out, the number of lives saved by the New York City firefighters, police officers and EMS is estimated to be over 20,000, which makes it the biggest rescue effort in history. My son knows a man who worked on the 22nd floor of World Trade Center Building 2. As he was evacuating and arrived on the 5th or 6th floor, he saw fire fighters passing him and going up. He told my son there was nothing in this world that could have turned him around and compelled him to go back up.
What does it take for fire fighters to do this? Courage, dedication and above all else, a willingness to lay down your own life so that others can live. And that's exactly what these men did on that horrible day. Even the Bible says, "No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for another."
It is not known exactly where the seven members of Ladder Company 101 were when they died. What I do know is that they all died a noble death doing what they loved to do and they now are in God's arms, forever safe from the flames that took them.