'We Were Rats in Cage' at Deutsche Bank Fire, Retired FDNY Lieutenant Testifies

NY Daily News - April 19, 2011

by Brian Kates

A retired FDNY lieutenant testified that he and his men felt "like rats in a cage" when the Deutsche Bank blaze trapped them in a maze of smoke-choked cubicles.

Taking the stand at the trial of three men charged with negligence in the deaths of Firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino, Vincent Massa recounted the panic during the 2007 inferno.

He led a team to the 15th floor of the tower, which was damaged on Sept. 11, 2001, and was under demolition when fire erupted.

Firefighters on the ground reported water being pumped in, but Massa said, "We tested the standpipe outlet, and there was no water in it."

The standpipe had been severed, and prosecutors say construction supervisors should be held accountable for that.

Unable to get water on the fire, Massa and his men tried to get to the 16th floor but were blocked by plywood and plastic barricades installed to contain asbestos. Crawling, they ran into walls and debris.

"It was driving me insane," he said. "I couldn't find the door. The guys around me were getting a little panicky."

Before a flashlight beam led them to safety, alarms that air tanks were low began to sound.

"It was as serious as it gets," Massa said. "I was on my knees, and all the guys around me were grabbing at me and screaming. We were like rats in a cage."