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Cork FDNY Officer recalls horror
  Irish Voice   2001-09-19 00:00:00+01

MARY Dorgan in Cork City must have trembled when she saw the images of New York City's monumental twin towers burning and crumbling. But not solely because of the brutality of this terrorist act.

Mary's son Michael is a New York City firefighter, one of a handful of Irish-born FDNY officers who were on call when terror struck from the sky.

"We all saw it on TV and we were just waiting for the bell to ring," Dorgan told the Irish Voice on Tuesday, speaking from Engine 166 on Staten Island, where he is currently working.

"The night guys were all getting off, the day guys were just coming in. So we were all there - having a cup of coffee or breakfast."

The 38-year-old Dorgan is stationed at Harlem's Engine 91.But with just two years on the job he is still on rotation, available to work throughout the city.

But of course, on Tuesday, September 11, every firefighter in New York City had the same destination - lower Manhattan.

Dorgan was one of the lucky ones, mainly because the route on the Staten Island Expressway and over the Verrazano Bridge is famous for its thick traffic.

"We didn't know what we were headed for," admits Dorgan, who came out to the U.S. 16 years ago, and lives in Staten Island with his Brooklyn-born wife. "The second building collapsed just as we pulled up."

Still, as was the case with all of New York City's rescue workers, Dorgan's family was left to wonder about his fate.

Aside from his wife, as well as mother, nephews and nieces back home, he has two brothers and a sister living in San Francisco.

The Dorgan family, however, was spared the torture of hours of uncertainty. "My wife was able to call around on the cell phone and get word around that I was alright," said Dorgan, who himself got a call into his wife from the Trade Center site, before most cell phones simply went out.

Upon arriving at Ground Zero, all Dorgan and his colleagues saw was a "big cloud of smoke" and bodies - alive and dead, including many of his FDNY brothers - being carried away from the carnage.

"All we kept saying was that we couldn't fathom this, it was too unbelievable for words," recalls Dorgan.

Despite the danger and chaos, firefighters were itching to jump into the mayhem. "Everyone wanted to get in there, we heard on the radios that guys were trapped in there. (But at that point, FDNY superiors) didn't want guys going in."

There was plenty more to do anyway. Before anyone could get into the rubble and search there was a massive fire to contend with.

According to Dorgan, his crew was charged with stretching out hoses and establishing a water source to battle the intense blaze.

"Everybody wants to get in there and find your brothers. But there was a big concern that there'd be a third collapse. So they were pretty cautious . It's still like that. You just don't want to lose any more guys."

With hopes for finding survivors fading this week, Dorgan and the rest of the men at Engine 61 are only now getting a slight physical break, and beginning to comprehend the enormity of the loss surrounding them.

"I'm still doing 24 hours on, 24 hours off. But (at the Trade Center) they're easing off a bit," said Dorgan. "They're spreading the load a little better. Maybe next week I'll be there."

He adds: "I think this is all just starting to hit guys now.Just yesterday I found out another friend of mine is missing."

What has helped the men at Engine 166 is the outpouring of affection from Staten Islanders in the neighborhood, and the entire city.

"It means a lot when people stop buy, and their shaking your hands, or they pass by and honk their horn. It means a lot."

What is it like going to work, now that this is behind him, knowing that such immense loss is perhaps possible again? Dorgan says the firehouse is actually a sanctuary.

"Everybody's sort of in the same boat, you know?" he says. "It's when you go home it's hard, there's too much time to think about it."

Irish Voice

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