New York Firefighter Shares 9/11 Story With Mahanoy Area Students

Republican Herald - September 12, 2009

MAHANOY CITY - Second-grade students at Mahanoy Area Elementary School - most of whom were born after the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001 - learned about the terrorist attacks Friday from a New York City Fire Department firefighter.

A 22-year member, FDNY Capt. Frank D'Amato, a Barnesville resident, visited the students in teacher Robyn Sincavage's class as part of the school's "Read with the Hero Day." D'Amato's daughter, Laura, is in the class.

D'Amato was at the World Trade Center shortly after the first airliner crashed into the North Tower.

"When the buildings started to fall, a lot of us who were outside started to run, and while we were running, the smoke and all the dust covered me," said D'Amato, showing photographs from a book to the students. "I couldn't see. It was like I was in a dark cave. So then we couldn't run anymore because we couldn't see where we were going. I remember walking while holding onto buildings so I could feel where I was going."

As the students listened quietly, he continued, "In New York City, we have a lot of parking garages, so I went down into one building. The guy who worked at the garage hosed me down with some water since I had dust all over me. When he did that, I was able to breathe and see a little better."

"Did it take a long time to clean all that up?" asked one girl.

"It took years to clean that up," D'Amato said. "We were down at the site for a lot of months working, helping people. Once everything happened that day, we still had to help anybody who got hurt while we were working."

"Did they get anybody out?" asked a boy.

"Yes, they got people out. Some people were alive," D'Amato said. "I saw a lot of kids your age and even a little smaller down there with their parents, who were running away with them in the smoke by carrying them or in carriages. It was a nice day and a lot of people come to see New York, but a bad thing happened."

Sincavage was glad D'Amato visited the school.

" 'Read with the Hero Day' started a few years ago as a remembrance of 9/11 to bring in heroes from around the area," Sincavage said. "Last year, I had a grandfather of a student who was a member of Department of Homeland Security come in."

D'Amato is currently on medical leave, but his normal schedule is working Monday through Thursday evening in New York City. He returns to his Barnesville home Friday through Sunday.

"We were fortunate to have him visit. He's reading a book called 'September 12th,' which was written by first-grade students," Sincavage said.

"September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right," was written and illustrated by first-grade students of H. Byron Masterson Elementary in Kennett, Mo. D'Amato also showed a coffee-table book with photos of the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks and the collapse of the towers.

After D'Amato spoke, the students read a poem to him about heroes.

"We had an idea what a hero is," Sincavage said to D'Amato. "Not the wrestlers, not the guys running up and down the football field. We know who are heroes are, and you're one of them."

After the program, D'Amato spoke about his career.

"I started out on the ambulance, then went into the communications bureau and became a dispatcher for EMS," said D'Amato. "We get over 3,000 calls per day for help from 911."

He was promoted to lieutenant in 1995, and became a captain in August 2001.

"Working at headquarters, we were just on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. When the first plane hit that day, we could actually see the gaping hole from our building in Brooklyn, which is only about a half a mile away across the bridge," D'Amato said.

"When we got to the site, we parked right in front of the South Tower, and as soon as we got out of the car, we heard another explosion, which we thought was just a secondary explosion in the North Tower, not realizing that it was the second plane. Guys I went down there with were killed in the collapse. I was lucky to survive both collapses. The position I had that day was staging officer. I was staging ambulances and fire trucks outside the building. Going into the building wasn't one of my duties for the day. I was just a few hundred feet from the bases of the buildings when they started to come down."

According to D'Amato, the actual "pancaking" of the building kept everything in a relatively small footprint. If the towers had fallen over, there would have been greater loss of life and damage, he said.

"If those buildings would have come down to the left or the right, there would have been a lot more devastation," D'Amato said. "I was very lucky to have survived the both collapses. It wasn't until a few hours later after the collapses that we were able to get our resources together and got together a plan of attack. I was down there for almost 48 hours."

D'Amato still watches the documentaries about 9/11 when they're on TV.

"I'm mesmerized by it. I just watch it and watch it. I guess it's like being in a war. You're never going to forget it," he said.