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NYC firefighter recounts horrors of 9/11

Bill Fanos lost nine fellow firefighters from

Bill Fanos lost nine fellow firefighters from

May 05, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

New York City firefighter Bill Fanos squinted through a heavy snowfall of pulverized concrete that blanketed the fresh remains of the World Trade Center towers the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

He had an affirmation.

Fanos, 28, could have been buried in the rubble, he said, if he hadn't been reassigned to a North Bronx-based fire department for that particular Tuesday. On any other day, he would have served in Manhattan, with Engine Co. 16/Ladder Co. 7, which already was at the scene when the second tower collapsed. Fanos was riding on a fire truck with Bronx Engine Co. 81/Ladder Co. 46, which had just started heading into Manhattan at the time.

He told members of The Hagerstown Church of the Nazarene Sunday that a Philippians verse, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" carried him through the day, the weeks and the 19 months that followed Sept. 11.

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Of the 343 firemen who died that day, Fanos shared lunch, laughs and family pictures with nine of them from his firehouse.

"I was taken out of harm's way and other people were put in harm's way," he said.

About 1,000 firefighters were at the scene when the second tower collapsed, he said. He was gazing at the distant smoke from the Bronx fire truck, when a dispatcher broke onto the citywide radio to conduct roll call of the fire departments. No one responded. Instead, exasperated firemen broke through on the radio, only to cry "Mayday," losing their breath as they tried to describe their location.

"I looked at the other guys on the rig and realized this was like nothing I had ever prepared for," he said.

He thought he would help rescue thousands of people, but he said bodies weren't recovered until about a month later. A firefighter for four years before Sept. 11, Fanos worked for two months at ground zero to help with the rescue effort.

During that time, Fanos sometimes was asked to distribute respirators to his colleagues, but he also passed out prayer-filled pamphlets. He said the latter were more popular.

"People either went to God or turned away from God," he said.

But Sept. 11 didn't trigger Fanos' Christian faith. He attended a Promise Keepers function at Shea Stadium in 1996, when he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, he said.

Promise Keepers is a Christian organization dedicated to uniting men worldwide to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ through the effective communication of seven promises, according to its Web site.

When he was in a car accident in January 2001, "God became real" and Fanos began a Bible study crusade he now believes prepared him for Sept. 11.

At the time of the accident, Fanos said he thanked the Lord for allowing him to escape unharmed. On his way to ground zero, Fanos prayed others would be spared like he once was.

Fanos said a friend, the Rev. Mychal Judge, New York Fire Department chaplain, once told him, "On this job, you have good days and bad days, down days and up days, but you never have a boring day."

Fanos said Judge responded quickly to the scene that day, too. Judge was reading last rites to a fireman when a body falling from the towers struck and killed him.

"God was working in this country then, and God is still working in this country," he said.

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