NY Daily News - September 02, 2007by Michael Daly
The department had believed that Firefighter Bobby Beddia and Firefighter Joe Graffagnino of Engine 24 both died after their air tanks ran out.
But a test is now said to have established that Beddia's tank had five minutes of air that could have made the difference between life and death.
The stunning results left the FDNY with an added mystery amid myriad questions of how the building was permitted to become a deathtrap. Beddia is acknowledged to be an extremely experienced, skilled and courageous firefighter who was not likely to have hit the manual shutoff on his air supply without good reason.
"What happened?" the senior official asked aloud on Friday.
In the most likely scenario, those five minutes can be seen as a testament to the courage of a firefighter who set out in search of a missing comrade and was overcome by smoke as he sought to extend his air supply rather than turn back.
This scenario begins after the FDNY finally got water into the building despite a severed standpipe. Engine 24 was on the 14th floor in blinding smoke and intense heat, but with no visible fire at which to aim the nozzle.
In keeping with standard practice that makes bravery routine, the lieutenant working with Engine 24 ventured away from the line to search for the fire and direct where the water should go.
But there was nothing standard about this fire in a demolition project that could not have been more deadly for firefighters if it had been designed to be so. The situation quickly went from hellish to even worse.
At one point the firefighters are said to have banged the nozzle on the floor as an "over here!" signal to the lieutenant. Beddia was the senior man on the line and by one knowledgeable account he instructed his two younger comrades to remain where they were as he searched for the lieutenant.
"He tells them to stay put; he crawls out to look," a veteran officer said yesterday.
Beddia let go of the line he could have followed back to safety and ventured into the disorienting smoke. He would have come to a moment when the vibra-alert on his air tank told him he was running short of air. He would have then come to a moment when he had to make a fateful choice.
Did he give up the search and turn back before his air ran out?
Or did he try to extend his air and keep searching by "taking hits," clicking the manual valve on the regulator off and on?
Beddia came from a firehouse that lost three men in 1994 and 11 more on 9/11, and he must have been determined not to allow yet another to die just across the street from Ground Zero. He also was not one to abandon a fellow firefighter even if "taking hits" is officially frowned upon.
He apparently kept searching, trying to extend a few minutes of air into a few more minutes with the hope of saving his officer. He seems to have been felled by the extraordinarily toxic smoke that was an added, hideous twist to the Deutsche Bank nightmare.
"The most probable explanation is he was trying to conserve his air to stay in a little longer, and while trying to conserve he was overcome," the veteran officer said.
Back on the line, Firefighter Joe Graffagnino was with a young firefighter who was filling in from Engine 255. Graffagnino's air ran out completely and the young firefighter heroically removed the regulator from his own face mask and attempted to share his air.
The younger firefighter would later report that the smoke was so poisonous he nearly lost consciousness after one choking breath of it. He managed to reach the building's exterior and alert comrades who rushed in to help Graffagnino. He was already beyond saving, as was Beddia.
Beddia, Graffagnino and the young firefighter all showed uncommon courage, courage such as our firefighters demonstrate every day. The two who perished would no doubt only be glad that the officer was able to find his way to safety.
The big question remains: Who had a hand in creating that deathtrap?