Deutsche Bank Fire Trial: Firefighter Carried Hoses To Tower's Top Floors Due to Severed Water Pipe

NY Daily News - April 28, 2011

by Melissa Grace

A firefighter battling the Deutsche Bank blaze took a dizzying ride atop an exterior elevator to carry fire hoses to the tower's top floors in a "last ditch" effort to get water on the deadly fire, an FDNY engineer said Wednesday.

The firefighter lugged hundreds of feet of hoses to the top of the condemned building because a critical pipe failed and disrupted the water supply, said Lt. Simon Ressner.

"The guy rode the top of the elevator, really it was to create an external riser," said Ressner, explaining how the firefighter created a temporary pipe to bring water to the fire that was engulfing the upper floors in August 2007.

The FDNY had to resort to this dangerous improvisation because the main water pipe, which should have pumped water into a permanent riser and up to the inferno, had been severed as workers demolished the building badly damaged on 9/11, Ressner said.

Because of the damaged pipe, lifesaving water spilled out onto the basement floor instead of being pumped to the 14th floor where firefighters Robert Beddia, 53, and Joe Graffagnino, 33, died.

"At that point you have so many maydays, two guys are coming out who are dead - you are just trying to do something," he said of the unidentified firefighter's heroic stunt. "It was smart and courageous."

Ressner's description of that day's chaotic events followed his testimony in the Manhattan trial of three construction supervisors charged with manslaughter in the deaths of Beddia and Graffagnino.

Prosecutors said the three - construction site safety manager Jeffrey Melofchik, abatement supervisor Mitchel Alvo, and foreman Salvatore DePaola - knew the pipe was broken and failed to repair it.

The trio said they didn't realize the significance of the pipe - and that government inspectors also missed the broken water extender.

Ressner, an 18-year-veteran of the FDNY, was sent into the building the day after the blaze to find out why firefighters were unable to get water through the main pipe.

He discovered it was breached.

Construction debris littering the building's floors also created a confusing maze that made it impossible for firefighters to find the ruptured pipe.

The decision to send a man up the elevator was made as precious time dwindled away and mayday calls flooded FDNY radios, Ressner said.

"Probably, there were many firefighters trapped," Ressner said, when asked if the hose extension saved lives.

"That is last ditch," he said.