Responder Remembers: Kinnelon Police Sgt. Reflects on 9/11
Police sergeant still remembers quietness of the September 2001 night.
When Kinnelon Police Sgt. Joe Fiduccia first heard that one of the Twin Towers had been struck by an airplane on Sept. 11, 2001, he was on line at G&A Bagels. A man in front of him had told him about it, though he was quick to dismiss the customer's claim.
As he got back in his car, he heard more about the incident on the radio and knew the man was not telling him a simple story.
"You could tell that there was something really going on," he said.
Fiduccia drove over to the Boonton Avenue firehouse where a television was showing images of the scene and just as he was watching, the second tower was struck.
"That's when I knew this was a real thing," he said.
Even as he watched the television, Fiduccia said he imagined the television portrayed the event in a much worse fashion than it would have appear in real life. But now, 10 years later, Fiduccia said what he saw at Ground Zero after responding that night was much more horrific than what most of the nation watched on television.
At the time, Fiduccia was a patrolman with the department and waited, along with many other officers, to see how and when they could respond.
Kinnelon Police Chief John Finkle, who was a captain at the time, said the county had asked the departments to wait to send officers until it could coordinate an effort. But that night, the department had received notification from New York City police departments that police officers with Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) experience were desperately needed at the scene. Finkle successfully urged the police chief and mayor to let Kinnelon send officers.
"I sent in three officers and they spent the week there and they assisted in going through the rubble and locating pieces of bodies," Finkle said.
Along with Fiduccia, Sgt. Joseph Napoletano and Sgt. Chris Carbone, all of whom were certified EMTs, responded.
Fiduccia said he remembers driving on Route 3 toward the Lincoln Tunnel, with all other cars being blocked off but police vehicles allowed to pass. Although he had already felt the seriousness and reality of the event, Fiduccia said the view from the overpass leading to the tunnel was the first time it really hit home that this was not just a movie playing out on a television screen.
"There was a big cloud of smoke and the towers weren't there," he said. "That was the first real moment it hit home."
Once they arrived, Fiduccia said they parked as close as possible to the scene, and he remembers a thick, grey dust covering everything when they got out of the car. Fiduccia likened the dust to snow, and said that about an inch covered everything closest to the police car, but as the officers walked toward the pile of rubble, the inches of dust became thicker and thicker.
After speaking with other officials on the scene, Fiduccia said he quickly began looking for survivors.
"All you were really doing was looking for people, somebody to save," he said. "The first night, you wanted to find survivors."
The first night, the officers did not have masks, but on the second, and as the group worked their way deeper into the rubble, masks were provided.
Police officers, rescue officials and fire department officials all worked together as team to find survivors, however, Fiduccia said on the second day, after the team had trouble finding them, the focus became more of a recovery effort for any identifying pieces of the people who were buried beneath the rubble.
At one point during the week, then President George Bush came to speak to the responders. While electricity was shut down in the area at the time, Fiduccia said he spoke through a megaphone.
"That was an emotional day," Fiduccia said.
Another emotional day was more recent, when Kinnelon brought an artifact of the World Trade Center to the borough on Aug. 9. The artifact will be stored in a display case in borough hall, but was transported from a hanger of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the borough by honor guard. The three Kinnelon officers who responded to Ground Zero stood alongside Mayor Bob Collins and Councilmen Andrew SanFilippo and Gary Moleta during a ceremony that day.
"It's nice that they're remembering us and acknowleding our response from 10 years ago," he said.
Fiduccia picked up Kinnelon's artifact, which is in the shape of a cross, from the hanger himself, along with the other officers and representatives of the borough. Looking at all the artifacts stored there brought back memories, he said.
"The big pieces of metal were a big flashback because I remember walking on that," he said.
Despite the unpleasant memories, Fiduccia said responding that week also gave him good feelings.
"It's a good feeling to be able to represent the borough, as well as our country," he said.
As part of our 9/11 coverage, we've got much more coming up this week. Here's what you can expect to see on Tri-boro Patch:
- We'll show you what a few tri-boro residents had to say about what the anniversary of 9/11 means to them in a special compilation video.
- The story of a Kinnelon police officer, formerly NYPD officer, who responded the day of 9/11, as well as the story of a man who was in one of the Twin Towers.
- Stories about two Kinnelon victims' family members and what they are doing on this year's anniversary.
- Complete coverage of all 9/11-related activities on Sunday, including Kinnelon's dedication ceremony at 1:30 p.m. in front of the Kinnelon Municipal Building and the Butler and Bloomingdale Candlelight Walk beginning at 7 p.m. at the Bloomingdale Municipal Building, 101 Hamburg Turnpike.