A Company Of Heroes

Even Before Sept. 11, They Were Heroes

The men in New York Fire Department's elite Rescue 1 unit are specialists, called in to fight the unusual fires, free trapped firefighters, and save lives.

Since Sept. 11, America has looked at firefighters – especially New York City firefighters – with awe. To most of us, their actions that day were heroic. But to hear the guys from Rescue 1 tell it, while they’re grateful for the recognition, we might be missing the point.

"One of the things about firefighters is they're not heroes because they died. They're heroes because of what they do every day," says Rescue 1 member Paul Hashhagen.

Rescue 1 On The Web
Check out Rescue 1's own Web site.

Over a week last summer, a television show called "The Bravest" shot almost 100 hours of tape, capturing everyday acts of courage by the 26 men of Rescue 1. "Lots of heroic deeds are done here. Lots of heroic stuff that’s never said. More heroic than anything you can imagine," said Rescue 1 member Dave Weiss on one of those tapes.

Over the course of that week, Rescue 1, which was the first rescue company established in the entire United States, fought fires underground, pried people from high-rise elevators and pulled them from burning buildings. Their response area extends more than 100 Manhattan blocks, Bill Lagattuta reports.

"It's the only fire company I ever wanted to be in, and I'll end my career here I hope," says Gary Geidel.

Among those captured on tape were Joe Angelini, at 63 the oldest fireman in New York. There's Dan Duddy, who knew almost as much about linguine with clams as he did about firefighting.

And there's Dave Weiss who may have loved the job more than any of them: "I was born for firefighting. I’m a legend. Ever since I was a kid, I knew what I wanted to do. Organized chaos is a fire situation and you can’t beat the action in Manhattan. The emergency work. The fires. The buildings. You don’t find this anywhere in the world."

In charge of it all is Captain Terry Hatton. At 41, he was the department’s rising star, son of an assistant fire chief and personal friend of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Like all the men of Rescue 1, Hatton just wanted to be in the thick of things.

"Here we are, the last line of defense in the world's greatest cityAnd it's a tremendous responsibility. But it's the challenge of it," says Hashagen.

One minute, they’re inside a high-rent high rise that’s spewing scalding steam onto Wall Street. The next, they’re racing uptown to a help a homeless man living under a bridge who has been hit by a train. Rescue 1 saved his life.

And late one night later that week, Rescue 1 raced uptown to save someone who had driven a car into the East River. To find the car, they had to don SCUBA gear and dive in. The river is so murky that the only way to find the car was to feel it. The water was also littered with sharp objects.

"In firefighting we don't have a choice. If you have to go in, you go in. The choice was made the day you took your oath," says Duddy.

As the sun begins to rise, the divers find the car and the victim, who was unconscious. Paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive the 36-year-old woman. It is a bitter disappointment.

"Unfortunately in a city this size, we go into the water fairly frequently. People jump off bridges, drive cars into water, not a good thing," says Hashagen.

What happened to Rescue 1 on Sept. 11? Find out.



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