Courage and Hard Facts: An Interview with Lenny Curcio, WTC7 Firefighter

by Hammer. An Italian translation is available here.

New York's firefighters are unanimously seen as the true heroes of 9/11. They climbed the endless stairs of the Twin Towers on fire, carrying their heavy gear, in the hope of saving some of the people who were in the offices of the World Trade Center. This often cost them their life or their health.

One of these firefighters, Lenny Curcio (quoted with his permission), has granted us an interview which reveals the emotion and commitment of those who worked tirelessly to save lives and dispels beyond doubt the conspiracy theories that claim, among many other absurdities, that World Trade Center 7 was demolished by explosives.

We offer this interview to our readers as part of our ongoing effort to spread as much as possible the truth about what happened on 9/11, so that the absurdity of conspiracy theories becomes clearer all the time.

We would like to thank Lenny Curcio for his time and his kindness.

Undicisettembre: Hello Lenny, it's an honor to speak with you and to share your words with our Italian readers, who are often hindered by the language barrier. We are very thankful to you for taking the time to discuss your experience with us.

What do you recall, generally speaking, about that day? Can you give us an account of your experience?

Lenny Curcio: I don't know how relevant my information will be to you so I'll tell you a little about that day as it pertains to me. On 9/11/2001, I was a Lieutenant with the NYC Fire Department and was in a training class in Queens. When the first plane struck the training facility went on standby. When the 2nd plane struck, we were deployed to the scene.

I arrived as the second tower collapsed. We were bussed in to the West Side Hwy and walked toward the disaster while all others were running away. We walked into the dust cloud and assembled for assignments. We were at the verge of chaos and tried to keep it organized. I was assigned to supervise the extinguishment of 7 World Trade, the very building my sister had evacuated. There were ten floors of fire and I decided to abort the assignment after no headway was made. We were drafting water from the Hudson River, but to no avail. I then pulled the men back to the West Side Hwy and formed a small group to do search and rescue.

We were picking up body parts and bringing them to one central area. At that time, I was able to start an Articulated Front End Loader and knocked through concrete pilings along the pedestrian path. This was to start removing crushed cars and fire trucks from the street by dragging them with the heavy equipment. After moving them out of the way, we were able to continue the search for more victims.

While doing so, 7 World Trade Center collapsed just as expected. Evening approached and we entered the abandoned American Express building. We had no power, no phones and our communications were exhausted (batteries). We forced many doors to offices in search of water and towels. The men needed bathrooms and needed to wash their eyes. After a brief rest, we regrouped and continued.

At midnight, I could not see anymore with the dust and my eyes were almost swollen shut. We walked about two miles to the Pitt Street firehouse and cleaned up. I don't recollect how I got back to the Bronx, but I was in pick up trucks, cabs etc.. The next morning, I returned and was assigned to the morgue due to a law enforcement background. I was identifying deceased firefighters, police officers and flight passengers. After two days in the morgue, I was assigned to an organized search and rescue for the next six weeks. There really was no rescue mission after the collapse....just a recovery mission.

The incident left me with some debilitating ailments and has scarred my memory for life. I attended two years of funerals on any available time and volunteer for anything that can help the victims of this act of war...not conspiracy.

Undicisettembre: There's a point in your account I'd like to underline. How were the conditions of WTC7 before it collapsed? In particular, how intense and widespread were the fires? As I guess you know, conspiracy theorists claim the fires were small and weak and that the building wasn't seriously damaged. What was the real situation?

Lenny Curcio: As stated above, we were at the verge of chaos and tried to stay organized. I was assigned to supervise the extinguishment of 7 World Trade there were ten+ floors of fire from approximately the 20th floor up. The Fire was from one end of the building to the other and extremely intense; something that can only be accomplished by an accelerant such as fuel. This type of fire has extreme adverse affects on the type of construction of WTC buildings. The exterior skirt walls of the inner WTC of building #7 suffered much damage as a result of the prior collapse of WTC #1 and 2. After a short time of using heavy caliber streams of water I decided to abort the assignment. Shortly thereafter, 7 WTC collapsed.

Undicisettembre: The next question is inevitably about how WTC7 collapsed. As you probably know, conspiracy theorists believe it was demolished with explosives and that the people in the streets didn't expect the collapse. I guess you can rule out this crazy idea once and for all, right?

Lenny Curcio: I can personally rule this out. From the time I arrived until the time I departed the scene on 9/11/01, I was working in front of and in the vicinity due west of 7 WTC. At the time of the WTC 7 collapse, the only “people in the streets” were emergency personnel within an established frozen zone. So, not only did we expect WTC 7 to collapse, we also watched it collapse and had to run for cover. There were no signs whatsoever of explosives or an explosion at that time. The final sounds were of a twisting metal structure (Whining) and then the sound of rubble free falling with earth shattering shock waves.

Undicisettembre: Ok, let's move on to somewhat more serious subjects. You were part of the rescue effort. What can you tell us about the rescuers and the work they were doing?

Lenny Curcio: My actual rescue efforts were very great, but yielded negative results. Remember, I arrived from another part of NYC at the time of the second collapse. The reason why I’m alive was because I arrived too late. My radio was used to communicate to several members, who did get out alive. All other efforts were basically supporting a search and recovery mission. The rescuers were flawless in their efforts. No one wanted to leave. This was not a job. This was an act of war. We all felt violated and we were going to do whatever it took to bring our fallen victims and rescuers home.

Undicisettembre: And what about the survivors and the people who came out of the Towers? What can you tell us about them?

Lenny Curcio: I did not assist any survivors except for a small group of rescuers that eventually made it out by whatever communication we were able to offer. As I walked south through the dust cloud towards the collapse scene, hundreds of people covered in ashen dust walked north on the West Side Highway. I only saw looks of terror, fear and a surreal environment.

Undicisettembre: You guys, together with policemen and other rescuers, are considered the heroes of that day. In my opinion this acknowledgment is totally deserved, since you were all getting closer to a potentially deadly situation while everybody else was going in the opposite direction. What's your opinion about this? Taking into account that many of them also lost their own health, do you also consider firefighters to be heroes?

Lenny Curcio: Firefighters have been dubbed “New York’s Bravest”. “Others run out; We run in”. There is a reason for that. We are trained to do the job. Other than panic, it is an involuntary reaction to fire that makes people run and jump out of windows. It is a treacherous job, but the most rewarding I’ve ever had. Every rescue worker from every discipline, including the military have displayed the utmost bravery and dedication that day and regularly throughout their service. But as hurtful as I was that day, I never felt more proud to be amongst the greatest ensemble of heroes of this era and possibly this generation. I am also one of those 911 victims, who lost their health as a result. Does it make me a hero? Maybe so, but I would like to believe that I would have done it anyway.

Undicisettembre: What are your thoughts about your colleagues who climbed the stairs in WTC Towers 1 and 2 during the evacuation? Most of them died, but they died while trying to save people who would have died instead of them.

Lenny Curcio: Absolute heroes! The best of the best! Pure definition of bravery!

Undicisettembre: Just to understand the whole matter better, how heavy is the equipment a firefighter has to carry when on duty in a high-rise fire?

Lenny Curcio: Approximately 80-100lbs. Boots, Bunker Gear, Helmet, Self Contained Breathing Apparatus, 50’ Length of Hose and a heavy tool.

Undicisettembre: Since you used to be an experienced firefighter, have you ever seen any other cases, apart from 9/11, of how steel gets damaged by intense fire? Does a firefighter's training include specific courses on the weakness of unprotected steel structures in case of fire?

Lenny Curcio: Yes, I have personally seen and been involved in fires where steel beams were used and witnessed the compromise of structural stability as a result of exposure to direct flame and high temperatures. Firefighters are trained to understand and recognize these signs. Fire Officers are afforded further training on effects of fire to all types of construction.

Undicisettembre: What can you tell us about the following days? What did you guys do and what happened after 9/11 while working on search and rescue?

Lenny Curcio: A greater assessment and formulated plans were implemented on day two. Constant changes were made to accommodate the volatile situation we were in. Extreme hazards were addressed as best as possible and many disciplines were arriving and put to work. It was also amazing and reassuring to see the City and Country band together in an effort to assist and support. Every day seemed to be the same, as if no progress was being made, but in reality, the 24hr/7 days/wk detail made progress in leaps and bounds.

Undicisettembre: What do you think about conspiracy theories that claim 9/11 was an inside job? Most of these theories believe the Towers were intentionally demolished with explosives, some of them even claim no aircraft ever crashed into the towers and all the videos that show them are fake. What's your opinion? How do your colleagues feel about these ideas? Are they irritated, indifferent?

Lenny Curcio: You can fix ignorant, but you can’t fix stupid. It is undeniable that two planes were strategically flown into the Towers. We saw live footage. My father witnessed the second plane’s collision (he was a mechanic for the NYPD and was on the roof of his building across the river). We have all kinds of other footage. We had to endure the extreme heat from burning jet fuel as well as the odor associated with it. From an engineering standpoint and a fire science standpoint, both planes strategically struck the towers and the results were imminent. I have not met a colleague who felt different….not one. As for anyone who was not at the scene from approximately the beginning….they are not qualified to pass judgment, to say different or to insinuate that a conspiracy theory exists.

Undicisettembre: Have you met any conspiracy theorists and tried to debate them? If so, how did it go, and what's your impression of these people? Have you found an explanation as to why these "inside job" theories seem to be popular even among people who you would not normally classify as nutjobs?

Lenny Curcio: I’ve met people, who did not share the same views as myself. I feel that I put their “concerns” to bed with facts. As for the die-hard theorists, I have had no encounter. Their job…or mission... is to instill doubt in the listener’s mind. They do this by offering a theory that may make sense but may neither be proved or disproved in its entirety. You can’t go wrong knowing the facts!

Undicisettembre: Do you feel your hard work and personal sacrifice has not been acknowledged adequately by the authorities? I mean, everybody made a great show of praising you at the time, but what real steps were taken to help you recover and to equip you better for such emergencies? We've all heard about the resentment regarding faulty radios and poor communication and the need for tougher skyscraper safety rules. Has that been forgotten, or are things looking good?

Lenny Curcio: I feel that we have been acknowledged as best as possible for the times. We constantly say, “We will never forget”. I’m afraid that future generations might forget and then history may repeat itself. I also believe that through Federal funding, we have the proper medical monitoring programs in place. You just need to participate. As far as complete healing efforts…..the damage is done. The WTC Medical Monitoring Program has helped me very much.

As far as being better equipped……nothing could have prepared us for what happened. The radios were not the greatest, but too much emphasis has been put on communication problem. I would venture to believe that if the same situation arose today with superior radios, our rescuers would still be in the building, evacuating people and the same results would happen again. Equipment….we have it. It seems someone or something had to answer for the loss of 343 firefighters that day and it was the radio’s turn to take the blame. I do agree that the radios were inferior and offered poor communications in this instance.

Skyscraper safety rules for the WTC were from the early 1970’s. Rules have changed for the better and are being enforced. That doesn’t help the issue of older buildings like the WTC. As a whole, we constantly point in the direction of safety and progress. Things are looking a little better.