Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Firefighters of 9/11
Aired September 16, 2006 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, two great hours. Coming up later an exclusive interview with President Jimmy Carter on the threats facing all of us, terrorism, nukes, the Middle East mess.
But we begin with something that is near and dear to my heart. We all love heroes and there are perhaps no greater heroes than the firefighters of 9/11. In the panic to escape the blazing twin towers, they rushed in.
I had the privilege of visiting a fire station on the front line of that terrible attack, a station that today stands as a symbol of 9/11's unimaginable loss. Here are the heroes of Firehouse 54-4.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The World Trade Center Tower 1 is on fire!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Send every available ambulance, everything you've got to the World Trade Center now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.
LT. ROBERT JACKSON, ENGINE 54: People come out covered in soot, a multitude of people just running for their lives.
MAUREEN SANTORA, CHRIS SANTORA'S MOTHER: Our words to him were "Goodbye son, be safe. Have a good tour."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was on Engine 54 going towards the towers.
JIM DWYER, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: The elevator was a mangled mess and that's when Ladder 4 arrived.
KING: Did you have a sense that your buddies were in trouble?
JACKSON: Yes, because I knew the brothers would be in the building and the way that building came down, it came down hard.
GEORGETTE GILL, MOTHER OF PAUL GILL: I went up to Lieutenant Jackson and I said, "Can I talk to somebody who was with him?" He said, "They're all gone."
JESSICA OTTICE, DAUGHTER OF SAM OTTICE: He's still a Superman to me, even though he didn't make it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we got Lieu?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smoke from the (INAUDIBLE).
KING: It's 9:00 a.m. and the men of this Manhattan firehouse are making their second emergency call of the day but these calls are routine. It's the busiest fire station in New York City. Firefighters here answer nearly 14,000 emergency calls a year.
FIREFIGHTER JOHN FILA, ENGINE 54: People say wow, you work at 54 Engine. You're working 4 truck. That's a busy place. It's pretty much you're running all the time.
KING: Each day begins with roll call and a check of the assignment board.
JACKSON: This is out riding list for the day. It has each position, each name, has some pertinent information for the day.
KING (on camera): This is what each has to do?
JACKSON: Yes, that's the chauffeur, the ECC, nozzle man, back up, door control and somebody had a detail out.
KING: Could any man do any of the jobs?
JACKSON: Oh, yes.
KING (voice-over): Firefighters check their equipment, crank up chain saws, suit up and answer an average of 20 calls a day. Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9, was founded over a century ago, nicknamed the Pride of Midtown. The firehouse stands in the shadow of Times Square.
FILA: This is our home, the theater district, as you can see by our logo of our fire engines, so you can just see they're continuously running on Broadway, which is what we do. We never miss a performance. We're always going.
KING: But the station also has another distinction. On September 11th, the firehouse suffered one of the worst losses of any in the city. All 15 men on duty that morning died that day. Members of the firehouse remember their fallen heroes.
(on camera): Santora.
JACKSON: Probie (ph), he was our probie on 54 Engine, young guy, still lived at home.
KING: Was he the youngest?
JACKSON: Yes. KING (voice-over): Just eight weeks out of the academy, Christopher Santora was the probie, the rookie of the station. Just 24 years old, Chris was raised in a large, close-knit Italian family.
M. SANTORA: He was a person that loved to laugh and tell jokes and he was the only boy in a family with four sisters, so he was the most outspoken, the most vocal.
AL SANTORA, CHRIS SANTORA'S FATHER: He was only about 5'7" and one of our neighbors who lives upstairs, Joey Farentino (ph), who was about 6'4"?
M. SANTORA: Six foot four.
A. SANTORA: And they would go at it in basketball but my son would run rings around him. My son had this spirit of competitiveness.
KING: Before joining the fire department, Santora was a social studies teacher but firefighting was in his blood.
PATRICIA SANTORA, CHRIS SANTORA'S SISTER: He always wanted to be like my dad from like when he was a little kid, you know, played with fire trucks, played with any kind of fire anything.
JACKSON: I used to tease his father. His shirt was always hanging out, always had a rag out of his back pocket. His dad was a retired deputy chief. And Chris would, you know, always be checking the rig, doing stuff, always sweating, you know, so you could tell that he was into the job.
KING: Firefighters also remember their brother Paul Gill.
JACKSON: Paul Gill, artist, fantastic artist.
KING: He could paint?
JACKSON: Oh, his family when we got to meet everybody afterwards, the families, they brought out all their personal items, an artist.
G. GILL: Yes, he used to stay up late.
JOHN GILL, FATHER OF PAUL GILL: Yes, he'd stay up late and write.
G. GILL: Did his poetry and his artwork.
KING: Georgette and John Gill cling to the artwork and poetry their son created during his life. The 34-year-old was a carpenter- turned-firefighter, who loved tattoos and drawing.
J. GILL: It was an outlet for him. For some reason he found this thing inside him which all of a sudden you sit down one day and you say "Yes, I can do that."
KING: A sketchbook could always be found in his hand, even in the fire truck.
FILA: He was an unbelievable artist. I remember in probie school he was doing a lot of drawing in the down time either before probie school or after and his drawing was just absolutely incredible.
KING: Gill was also known for being an incredible loving father. He helped raise two boys, one with physical disabilities.
AARON GILL, SON OF PAUL GILL: He was good as a firefighter, you know. The reason why he wanted to be one is because he wanted to be a hero.
JOSHUA GILL, SON OF PAUL GILL: I have one of his firefighter shirts and every time I think about him I see that and it makes me feel that he's there. Sometimes I wear it and I feel that he's right there.
KING: Jessica Ottice's father Sam had become her hero long before September 11th.
J. OTTICE: I thought he was Superman, you know. As a little girl I was like "Oh yes, you know, my dad's a firefighter" and it's such a big deal until what happened. He's still a Superman to me even though he didn't make it.
KING: The 45-year-old father of two coached roller hockey, even formed a league. He had a reputation for being the toughest in the station.
JACKSON: The strongest guy I ever met. He could lift every weight in this house, good with drilling, always called me boss, not that you had to keep the guys in line but he would say "Hey, you're not doing the right thing" or "You are doing the right thing."
KING: Camaraderie is what 54-4 is built on. They call each other brothers and have an unbreakable bond in and out of the firehouse.
FIREFIGHTER PETER CONTE, ENGINE 54: They're getting paid to hang out with their friends. That's really what it is, you know, and then like, you know, you have dances together. You watch each other's kids grow up.
FIREFIGHTER AL SCHWARTZ (RET.), LADDER 4: You hit the word family. It is a family. People that don't have any attachments to the fire department don't really realize how much of a family it is and a closeness. When we go to work, we have to depend upon each other and if something happens, I have to know the next guy is going to be there getting me out of trouble and he has to know that I'm going to be there to get him out of trouble.
KING: While others run away from burning buildings, firefighters, brothers, rush in.
M. SANTORA: It's part of their being, part of the fiber of them is helping other people and doing and being servers rather than takers. This is what they do.
CONTE: Firefighters are a special breed. They want to go where the excitement is. They want to go in harm's way to see if they can save a life.
KING: The risks are part of the job.
SCHWARTZ: If you're going into a fire you never know what you're going into and you never know if you're going to come out. You know you go to work in the morning you never know if you're going to come home at night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) pretty quiet today, beautiful weather midwest, northeast.
KING (voice-over): And the day starts out quiet for Firehouse 54-4.
FILA: Chris Santora was new in the firehouse before the 11th. Chris was working my tour that day, something I'll never forget.
M. SANTORA: We spoke to him the day before, you know, he went off to duty. Our words to him were "Goodbye son, be safe. Have a good tour."
KING: Sam Ottice was getting ready to leave the station.
JEAN OTTICE, SAM OTTICE'S WIDOW: He was scheduled to get off at nine o'clock and the call came in at 9:15 for them to go.
KING: Paul Gill was heading in.
TINA GILL-LAMPART, PAUL GILLS' WIDOW: My son Joshua and I were waiting for the school bus in the morning and Paul came, drove by. He says, "I'm on my way in" and he was very early.
KING: Also on duty that day Guadalupe.
JACKSON: Jose, one of my chauffeurs, fantastic guy.
JACKSON: Great sense of humor.
JACKSON: Very proud man.
JACKSON: Quiet guy, great cook.
KING: Tipping (ph).
KING: Comedian. Brennan.
JACKSON: Oh, (INAUDIBLE) the best, funnier (INAUDIBLE) funnier.
KING: Funnier than Tipping?
JACKSON: Oh, yes.
KING: Fineberg (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Character. There you go.
JACKSON: Good guy.
KING: Hobb (ph).
JACKSON: Hobb, the German, he was...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Hobbinator (ph) that was his nickname.
KING: Assaro (ph).
JACKSON: Grateful Dead lover.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dead head.
KING: O'Callaghan (ph).
KING: Garrity (ph) the chief.
JACKSON: A leader, second to none.
JACKSON: Again, how can you say one of the best.
KING: 8:46 a crystal clear morning in New York City is suddenly shattered.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This just in. You are looking at obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center. Oh-oh!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clear out of here now!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It came in like a -- like a -- like a -- like a spear. It just speared through the building.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The World Trade Center Tower 1 is on fire, the whole outside of the building. There was just a huge explosion. Send every available ambulance, everything you got to the World Trade Center now!
JACKSON: Any time you hear an alarm come in, like a multiple it will come over the voice alarm so hey had to know this was coming and they want in.
KING: Fourteen minutes later Engine 54 answers the call.
CONTE: They were going to the big one. Something you learn like as a joke in probie school almost is that they always tell you whatever you're doing in the firehouse don't miss the big one. It's the big call, the big fire, because there's nothing worse than coming in the next shift and everybody tells you "We had a huge fire and you missed it."
KING: 9:03, a chaotic scene of confusion gets worse. A second hijacked passenger plane is visible overhead. As the world watches on live television it slams into the south tower.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My God!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayday, mayday, another plane hit he second tower OK.
KING: Both towers are now in flames. Thousands of people are trapped on the floors above the impact. Additional crews are needed. Again, the alarm sounds at the Midtown firehouse. Ladder 4 responds.
JACKSON: Ladder 4 was done. They were not working the day tour on the 11th. They were off duty. They volunteered to go.
DAVID TURNER, LADDER 4: We were watching right after the first plane hit and at that time I knew how bad it was and I knew I had to come in. So, I told my wife I had to leave.
KING: By now 15 of Turner's co-workers are racing to the scene.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looked like the plane was aiming towards the building. Transmit a third alarm.
KING: Families back home watch as the horror unfolds.
KATHLEEN SANTORA, CHRIS SANTORA'S SISTER: I was expecting the worst and the worst being either he was -- his life was taken in the devastation or he was so badly injured that he wasn't able to contact us.
KING: A picture given to the firehouse years later shows the firefighters rushing to the scene. JACKSON: This is a picture of 54 Engine responding to the World Trade Center on 9/11.
KING: I know this is hard for you. Did he come here and give it to you much later?
TURNER: Yes, about...
G. GILL: I think when they left the firehouse they might not have known what they were facing but by the time they were getting there they knew.
KING: Engine 54 is among the first to arrive.
DWYER: The streets were filled with people who were pouring out of the buildings and heading north or people in adjacent buildings heading north and a huge, huge fire at the top of the towers.
CONTE: Firefighters are a special breed. They want to go where the excitement is. They want to go in harm's way to see if they can save a life.
SCHWARTZ: And they looked at that building and they gave close- ups of their faces and they knew that they might not be coming out.
FILA: We go into every fire and every situation with the expectation of coming out with 100 percent. We don't go in to any situation saying, "Well there's an acceptable number of fatalities or injuries."
KING: As they start to work, the 15 men from Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9, have reason to be hopeful. Since the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, a truck bomb in a basement parking lot, there have been improvements. Better radio equipment has been installed. The sprinkler system is now virtually complete. And the firefighters themselves are now more experienced.
DWYER: And, you know, they want to win. I think there's a competition.
KING: New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer is the co-author of "102 Minutes" a detailed account of what happened inside the twin towers.
DWYER: There was a tremendous reflex that this was the fire that they had all trained to fight, to take on this big roaring dragon of a fire.
KING: The New York Times sued the city for release of an audio tape, radio calls of the firefighters at work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Battalion Seven to Ladder One-Five.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One-Five.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to need two of your firefighters Adam stairway to knock down two fires. We have a house line stretched. We could use some water on it. Knock it down. Okay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. 10-4. I'll be right to you.
DWYER: In very plain, calm language you're listening to these firefighters trying to get people out and they're going about it in a very businesslike way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tommy, listen carefully. I'm sending all the injured down to you on 40. There's about 10 to 15 people coming down to you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got that. I'm on 40 right now, Lieu.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tommy, when you take people down to the lobby, try to get an EMS crew back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely.
KING: But from the beginning they face obstacles.
DWYER: There was one factor that controlled everything and that was the inability of the firefighters to reach the upper floors.
KING: There are 99 elevators in each tower but in each building only one elevator is working.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The elevator's screwed up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't move it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to get stuck in the shaft.
KING: Burdened with as much as 100 pounds of equipment they use the stairs to assault a building 110 stories tall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, chief. I'm on 55. I got to rest. I'll try to get up there as soon as possible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 10-4.
KING: And despite the improvements for radio communications, many radio signals are nonetheless garbled and blocked by the building's steel and concrete.
SCHWARTZ: You get a little panicky but the guys that we work with are trained well enough to try to get around that.
DWYER: Fire department guys, one of the things they are is very on the spot inventive. They're like jazz musicians. They extemporize. KING: True to form, Battalion 9 Chief Ed Garrity is not about to miss a performance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Battalion 9 to Command Post.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Battalion 9, I need you on the floor above 79. We have access stairs going up to 79.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, I'm on my up, Orio.
KING: Garrity and men from another unit have a plan to evacuate trapped survivors.
DWYER: There are injured people who can't get up. There are people trying to take care of the injured. These people think they are on the furthest spot on earth from hell. And lo and behold, here comes Orio Palmer and Joe Levy and Ed Garrity and all the men from their companies to reverse the forces of destruction.
KING: Others from the Pride of Midtown are trying to rescue people from an elevator that had plunged from up high and miraculously stopped just in time.
DWYER: Trapped inside this were maybe a dozen or more people and the elevator was a mangled mess. That's when Ladder 4 arrived.
J. OTTICE: He was in the lobby and had just gone out to get the jaws of life and bring it back in. They were trying to open up the elevator to get the people out.
KING: At the same time, there's a dramatic turn of events.
DWYER: There's an extraordinary moment when a building engineer at No. 7 World Trade Center meeting in the lobby with some other people in kind of an ad hoc emergency session, says that he believes total collapse of the towers is possible.
The ground fire radios were not working that day. They send a messenger dodging through this flaming debris over to the main command center to give this message to the chief of the department Pete Gansey (ph).
And the messenger comes flying up the block and gets to Gansey's aide and says, "I've got a message from the building department. He thinks this thing could fall down" and they grab Gansey right away and they give him the message. And he said, "Who would tell you a thing like that?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring every available ambulance you got to this position. KING (voice-over): The dispatch just before 10:00 a.m.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Major collapse in one of the towers (INAUDIBLE).
KING: Desperation turns into the unthinkable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out! Get out!
KING: A wall of smoke and debris, a deafening roar and then silence. Off duty firefighters are on their way when the South Tower collapses.
(on camera): Did you know that your buddies were in trouble?
JACKSON: Yes, when the first tower came down.
KING: How did you know?
JACKSON: Just well we knew they would be in there. First of all we know the brothers would be in the building and when that tower came down like that you just looked at it and said "That's bad." It's going to be hard to find people but there's always a chance in a collapse of a lean-to, somebody in a pocket somewhere, so we had hope.
KING (voice-over): But about 30 minutes later the North Tower falls.
FILA: It's another impossibility. I said this is -- I'm not even driving in. Maybe it's a dream. Maybe it's a nightmare. There's no way that two 1,100-foot buildings are going to collapse, impossible.
KING: Firefighter Al Schwartz has the day off.
SCHWARTZ: That was just because of the (INAUDIBLE), you know that's the way it worked that day because it could have gone the other way.
KING: But when Al sees the disaster he calls the firehouse. Lieutenant Dan O'Callaghan takes the call.
SCHWARTZ: As I was talking to him I got the assignment and he says, "We're going now." I says, "All right, I'll come in and meet you." I figured if I could come in and just carry equipment up to the upper floors it can help somebody out that's working that day and that was the last I spoke to him.
KING: None of the off duty firefighters gets there before the towers collapse and nobody is prepared for what they see.
FILA: We got out and it was just such a surreal environment to be dropped off in and the people coming out covered in soot and just a horrific scene the smoke that was coming up and the dust that was -- we were there, you know, and there was still papers from desks flying in the air. SCHWARTZ: You really didn't think like you didn't visualize like the whole command structure was wiped out and, you know, firemen aren't supposed to die and you didn't think anybody was hurt until you really got closer and saw what actually happened and knew we were in for big problems.
FILA: And we were going to go see who we can get out and who we can save and pull out of rubble, you know. You're fully expecting to go in there and you're going to start getting victims out left and right. And the other thing that you're thinking about is where's our guys?
KING: That question is also on the mind of Al Santora, a veteran firefighter. Al and his wife Maureen lived through the jobs dangers for 40 years and now they wait to hear from their son Chris.
M. SANTORA: (INAUDIBLE) collapse. Al sat down, put his hands over his head, eyes, and he said "Oh my God, it's a pancake collapse." I had no idea what that meant. I knew it was very serious because Al never, never responded.
A. SANTORA: But in a pancake when it comes straight down it means there are very few voids and tremendous weight of the buildings that for the most part anybody below would be pulverized.
KING: By late afternoon, still no word from Chris. Al makes his way to Ground Zero.
A. SANTORA: And I went over to the command center to see if I could help out and give them a break and help out here, help out there. And, in the meantime, I was looking for Christopher. I was looking for Engine 54-4 and if anybody had seen them.
KING: On the opposite side of the country the parents of firefighter Paul Gill are heading home from their ten year anniversary trip. Their layover at Los Angeles Airport turns into a full blown evacuation.
J. GILL: Lockdown, everybody get out.
G. GILL: Get out.
J. GILL: Get out. There was nobody to show you the way just get out.
G. GILL: No help.
KING: They (INAUDIBLE) to a friend's home and then call their son's wife Tina.
G. GILL: When I got through I said "Tina, it's Georgette. Where's Paul?" And she said, "Where are you?" And I said, "We're fine. We're in Los Angeles. Where is he?" She said "He went in." She said "He took an overtime shift. He went in this morning. We haven't heard." And all through the evening no word, no word. We went to sleep, well not really sleep and then at six o'clock California time my friend Lois came banging. We were in her guest house and she came banging on the door. And she said, "It's Tina" and I knew that if it was good news she would have been saying that already. And John took the call. He was missing.
KING: But they still hold on to hope.
G. GILL: John was on the floor. My friend had this big TV and he was on the floor in front of the TV with his face inches from the screen. And I said, "John, what are you doing?" And he says, "I'm looking for my son."
KING (voice-over): Minutes after the towers fall, the sound of hundreds of small alarms worn by each firefighter so they can find each other in the dust and smoke. Finding each other and finding other survivors becomes an obsession. They go to work sifting through a debris pile that covers 16 acres and rises 100 feet.
FILA: All that night working down there and the next day, the day after, the day after that, we still held out hope that maybe guys are trapped in a void. They're going to be all right.
KING: But they are not all right. Of the 15 men who rushed down from the firehouse none survived, the largest toll of any firehouse that day.
JACKSON: When I came back here I ran into Chief George Mayer (ph). He was assigned -- he's assigned here. And I said, "Hey chief," I said, you know, "Where's the guys from 54?" And he said, "Bobby, they're all gone. They're all gone." And I cried. He held me. I cried like a baby. That was when I realized everybody was gone.
The public started coming by bringing flowers, you know, just out -- almost out to the street corner, candles, flowers, people came by singing, just like the whole -- it seemed like the whole country came here.
FILA: People from other countries that didn't even speak English that came here and they would look at you and look you in the eye and they couldn't speak a word of your language and you couldn't speak a word of theirs but you felt gratified that they were there.
KING: But for the firefighters the most crucial support comes from within. The New York Fire Department lost 343 people on September 11th.
SCHWARTZ: When we went to funerals in the beginning nobody really knew who was missing or who was not alive anymore and people were just so happy to see each other, you know, see who was still here.
KING: Georgette and John Gill get the news about their son Paul when they arrive at the firehouse. They had been stranded in L.A. for two days until the airlines were allowed to fly again.
G. GILL: I went up to Lieutenant Jackson and I said, "Can I talk to somebody who was with him?" He said, "They're all gone."
KING: As more family members get the bad news the packed firehouse becomes a sacred place. Everyday items like the daily assignment board take on new meanings.
(on camera): On 9/11, 2001, these men wrote their names on this board or someone wrote their names down.
JACKSON: Yes, I'm guessing Santora, he was the junior man working. He wrote after roll call he wrote that up there and family members started to come in and write notes to their loved one.
KING (voice-over): For Chris Santora, a loved one's last ditch plea for a miracle; for Paul Gill, a note asking for one last hug. And just next to the fire trucks a wall of honor.
(on camera): This is a permanent part of this?
JACKSON: Yes. We see it every day. We treat it with total reverence. This is the pictures of the 15 men from the house that were lost that day. Between them they have 28 children and the families will come in and put notes on, like the Finebergs same in and they put a stone out of his cemetery plot. So they bring in things like that. The Lynch boys write cards to their dad.
KING: That's too bad.
JACKSON: Mike Lynch had, you know, had two boys, Mike and Jack, great kids. So, you know, different people come in.
KING (voice-over): High on the wall a remnant of Ladder truck 4.
JACKSON: This is probably the low grade maybe 40 feet into the -- in the trade center and that was Ladder 4's, you know, piece on the bed of their ladder that identifies their unit.
KING: The firehouse shrine is the closest thing most of the men's families have to a grave. Only seven of the 15 bodies were recovered.
(on camera): This says "If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I'd walk right up to Heaven and bring you home again."
(voice-over): The firehouse had the honor of bringing them home.
SCHWARTZ: If they found somebody from the company, they would put the company out of service and let you go down there and carry them out. JACKSON: Everything would stop at the trade center. The workers would line the platform out of the pit and they would let the members from the company carry the Stokes (ph) basket out covered with a flag, total silence, you know. It's really the honor that they gave us and then they would call us down to carry out our brothers.
KING (voice-over): A mountain of candles, flowers and cards, an emotional tribute to 15 of New York's bravest, 15 who gave their lives trying to save others when the towers fell.
Five years later the tributes continue outside the Engine Company 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A great honor to meet you sir, God bless you.
JACKSON: The people come from all over the country and they want to shake your hand, tell you how sorry they are for your loss and I am so gratified when that happens. When those people come to me that's unbelievable. There's such an outpouring of love.
KING: Tributes, well wishers, a constant stream and yet five years after this firehouse paid the dearest price much remains the same, a return to the routine cleaning, shopping, cooking and joking.
FILA: If you don't make light of a tragic event sometimes you'll go to pieces. You have to be that close with the guy next to you and by sharing the camaraderie and the jokes and everything else that makes us tight.
KING: Still the reminders are everywhere in this firehouse, reminders of those 15 brothers lost even for those who came in after 9/11.
FIREFIGHTER ANTHONY AULETTA, ENGINE 54: I saw what they was to everybody and that -- that is so overwhelming, you know, and you could see the pain in the guys' faces in the firehouse.
KING: Pain over losing firefighters like Chris Santora, the rookie, who instantly fell in love with the station in the shadow of Times Square.
A. SANTORA: Well he loved where -- the location. I mean you're right in the heart of the theater district. I mean doors are open. You just sit out there and you saw the most beautiful women walking by, you know, all day and they were all stopping at the firehouse. I mean, you know, you're a young guy. You're 23 years old and you're single. I mean what better place could you be?
KING: Chris' sister Patricia is reminded of her brother, a former teacher, every time she walks to work. She teaches at the school that now bears his name in New York.
P. SANTORA: He's not here. He can't be here. But this is his school, you know, and it's like I tell my friends, people that I work with like I'm never leaving. I'm going to work here until I die.
KING: Another of Chris' sisters, Kathleen, was so inspired by her brother and the events of 9/11 she joined the army. She's seen here with some of the current firefighters of Engine 54.
K. SANTORA: Before 9/11, I was just going to college. I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I didn't take a lot of things seriously. After September 11th, I joined the military and I served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
KING: If Chris Santora was the rookie of Engine 54, Sam Ottice was the veteran, the tough guy around the firehouse.
SCHWARTZ: Sammy was a bull. He was just a bull of a guy, big guy, strong guy, and he was always there. You know if you needed something, Sammy was always there.
KING: Sam was always there for his family too. And five years after his death they're celebrating that devotion with the opening of this bar, dedicated to Sam's memory and memorabilia.
J. OTTICE: He was a great guy. He loved the kids and as a firefighter I can't speak anything higher than him. I've always told the kids that if we were in a fire I would be really happy if he was on the other side to get us out.
KING: For the widow and sons of Paul Gill, his strength lied not in his brawn but in his artistry, in his drawings, his paints, and his letters.
GILL-LAMPART: He used to write me letters and leave them all over the house and say, you know, "When I die, you'll find letters for years" and I did find letters everywhere hidden in pictures, hidden behind, you know, inside drawers, hidden everywhere.
KING: But it's a poem that Tina Gill-Lampart found that may best serve as his legacy to his sons Joshua and Aaron, a poem about becoming a father.
GILL-LAMPART: The beauty of the eyes frighten me; skin so soft, innocent and free, I'm scared.
J. GILL: Did I create this? I'm responsible. How can I help? What do you want? I will help. I'm here. Should I hold you? Do you want something to eat? Or, is it time for bed?
A. GILL: Slides in parks and rides to the country, swings and bats and balls that mean fun I will provide. You are me and I am you. We are one. We are the same. You are you and yourself. I will be here and you will be there. I love my kids.
KING: Paul Gill, Sam Ottice, Chris Santora, three of 15, their names forever etched in the profound history of 9/11, their engines a rolling reminder of their legacy and their ultimate sacrifice.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com