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Interview With 9/11 First Responder Tommy Molta

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Last Played: September 11, 2021
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Hoboken firefighter, Tommy Molta, recalls his experiences assisting survivors of the 9/11 attacks. Molta reflects on the kindness and care that the American people embodied following the devasting events.
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mm If you've been in Hudson County for the last few years, you're lucky enough to enjoy the stunning views of the freedom tower from the waterfront. But many local residents who have been here for 20 years or more remember the past views of the beautiful twin towers As well as the horrific tragedy that unfolded right before their eyes, directly across the Hudson River on September 11, 2001 one such resident is a retired captain of the Hoboken Fire Department and current chief officer at the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps. His name is Tommy malta. He was a first responder and literally one of the first at the scene of the Hoboken train station when victims of 911 came across the Hudson to safety on that Tragic Day. He's here with us today for a special September 11 segment and he's going to share his story, a firsthand account of the day that forever changed our lives as americans here. He's sharing his story of compassion, courage, and fearlessness and how amazing our community was in bringing people together in a time of need. Thanks so much for being here. Tommy. Good morning. Thank you for having me. So, tell me a little bit about you. How long have you lived in Hoboken? I'm all my life. I'm 56 years old. I'm born and raised. I only lived in three different addresses my whole life in hoboken. It's all been on the same block, Clinton street straight up and down. That's great. Now, you've been in public service a very long time. Tell me about your career At 17 years old. I joined the whole book and voluntary and non school and uh, that was in 1980 And then in 1985, um I was appointed to as a firefighter, Hoboken Fire Department. Uh in 2003 I was promoted to the rank of captain. I did 25 years of service with the Fire Department and October the second of this year. I start my 39th year with the help of volunteers. It's amazing. And tell me a little bit about what you do at the whole book and volunteer ambulance corps and the fire department. You know, what are the things that you're responsible for? So with the ambulance corps, I'm the president of the organization. So I handle all the administrative side of it, but also the day to day operation. Uh, it's a uh, it's the last all volunteer ambulance corps in Hudson County. We have about 200 members. We provide the emergency medical services for the city. Uh, you know, anytime call an ambulance. We do whatever we have to do to get you expediently to the hospital in good shape uh in regard to the fire department, I was originally assigned to an engine company. And then when they put the rescue company in service because of my uh, past history with the ambulance, I was automatically assigned to the rescue. I finished my career there, 14 years in the rescue company. Ultimately being the captain there. That's incredible. So Let's talk about September 11. Everyone I think in the country in the world potentially remembers where they were on that day. Where were you the morning of September 11, 2001. So, um, I was already a president of the Ambulance corps at that time and I was also the deputy coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management for the city. The coordinate his name at the time was jimmy fitzsimmons, who is a, I believe at the time he was a lieutenant with the Police department. I had a meeting with him that morning and uh I tried to get there a little earlier figures, sit down, have a cup of coffee type of thing. So I got there around uh 8:30 and I was walking into police headquarters. It's about a quarter to nine now. And uh the building that is widely now was under construction at 1 11 River Street. And as I was walking up the steps to go with the police headquarters, heard a loud bang and it almost sounded like a roll off dumpster coming off of a truck too fast. Kind of didn't think anything about it, walked in. So you get to the desk and I said to, I got a meeting with jimmy fitz at nine o'clock and they looked and they said forget it, he'll be here by 9 30 sit down and right behind the desk is the radio room and we heard one of the police officers scream And he used an expletive? And he says a blank plane just hit the World Trade Center and nobody knew what to say. It was like, what did he just say? So then the he says everybody calm down, He has the cop that was honestly what's going says a large plane just crashed into the World Trade Center and everybody started running out of police headquarters. And as we went to go across first Street, we could see all the construction workers from this building staring and they will waving at us. So we we got down to first and river and can just see black columnist smoke. Yeah. At this point you think it's a tragic accident. So you know, but because of our proximity to New York and the First World Trade Center bombing in 1993, we treated 150 p 167 people in Hoboken. I knew we were gonna receive casualties one way or the other. So I said, tell jimmy, I'm not going to make the meeting and I jump back in the chief's car from the ambulance and went to the train station and there was pandemonium people just because you could see the buildings from the train station and people were just like awestruck staring and we have such a view. The view is spectacular. You know, there was, there were also people, people crying. There was people hysterical already. Like you just didn't know what was going on. And again, you know, you're thinking, oh my God, how did the plane hit that building? And you, you know the initial reports, a lot of the news services, the initial reports were, they thought it was a small plane and people that were there, eyewitnesses were saying no, it was a commercial airline, it was injected. So um, so then the first plane hit and then and then the second plane hit. Well what happened was one of the cap, one of the previous captains of the ambulance called lived a block away. He lived in huts on Washington street. He came right over and um he was my right hand guy that day. So I said, I listen, we're gonna start setting up a triage area. We interacted with the police department, we needed vehicles moved and we're gonna start bringing ambulances in. Never expecting it to escalate. You figured, okay, this is will handle this and then it will be okay. So About 10 minutes went by and we heard a roar and it was the second plane and you could see him coming in and we used expletives and it was, we saw it hit and it was just a large fireball and that same sound from the first one at this point now it was like, okay, it's not an accident were under, we're under attack. And you know, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, we've never been attacked on our home soil. So it was like, what's gonna happen next? We're under attack. We have no information here. But now we knew we got to wrap this up to expect a significant amount of casualties. While all this was going on out of the path train station came to women who were burned significantly burned and our first ambulance had already been on the scene. And uh, apparently they were in the lobby of the building when the planes hit how they got back on the path train, we don't know to this day were the path train shut down at this point they had uh, rail lines use a thing called condition black. When they go to condition black, everything shuts down. So it must have been the last train coming back and they sent it to Hoboken when it came up. I mean, they were both burnt so badly and they were holding each other up. So the girl who was on the ambulance name was Sylvia convention says Tommy, What do you do? I said, put him in the animals and take them to the hospital, take them the same ball and just go right to the burn center. So they went to the burn center and then we knew we were going to have a significant situation on our hands. So in that moment, I think everything changed and you really realized that this was this was way bigger than just a plane crash. And tell me then what you did. So the initial response was uh, to set up triage to set up an area where we could render aid to anybody who came over. But now that that kind of changed because that is security issue involved were under attack. We don't know what's going on. Um there was reports of a third plane we didn't know right. So um people started coming over on ferries. A lot of people were sent over on ferry boats. But the basic, the basic idea was to render care. So we um used a system that we have at the time, under the New Jersey State for State Council. We called in and said we have a, they knew what was going on, they knew that there was a plane crash and now they knew the second plane to hit the town. He said Based on previous incident in 1993 bombing, we can expect a lot of people here, but it wasn't only hoboken. So our local mutual aid, Jersey City, Weehawken Union City, well, Jersey Jersey City's got Liberty State Park and Weehawken has the Lincoln Harbor marina where ferry boats come in. So we couldn't use our local mutual aid because they had, they had their they had to be there for their own because there were just so many people coming over. So for the first, Approximately the 1st 30 minutes to 40 minutes, we were kind of on our own, our members mobilized and we put all three of our ambulances up there and we have some special operations equipment that we were able to set up a small triage area underneath the bus terminal. And you're treating people who are already treating people that had come off the ferry. All different kinds of injuries, broken bones, lacerations were they in the towers are around both in and around. Some of the uh one gentleman had a really really significant laceration across the whole front of his face and he had gotten hit with flying the break but so then the cavalry, so to speak, all of the mutual aid providers from outside of this local area, a lot of paid services started coming in and one of the first ones on the scene was a university hospital from Newark. They brought a lot of equipment to help. Right? And then the hospital actually sent doctors and nurses say at the time it was ST mary's hospital and uh they sent doctors and nurses and we had a pretty significant triage area. How many people did you treat? So and a lot of people needed, there's physical injury and then there was emotional and mental injury and those people are just as important as the people had physical injury. So and they all had to tell tale dust, you know, so you knew that they were near it. So the Hoboken fire department set up an area to decontaminate them as they came in to get the stuff off them. And then if they were injured, they came to us. If they weren't injured they were sent to another area where they were out of our way, so to speak. And over the course of the day we treated over 2000 people who was 20 122 is the number of Hoboken alone. Just the towboat triage area, Jersey city in Weehawken probably had their own, their own Numbers. Each ferry that came over was had about 500 people on it. Oh my gosh! Because they were all just trying to get, trying to get out. And my my wife, ironically enough worked in the city at the time and uh you know, I may be selfish, whatever. But she was one of the first phone calls I made I said you need to get the hell out of Yeah, no, that's that's natural, natural response, you know. And one of the things we teach our first responders on the MTs and even in the fire service you can't be productive yourself if you know, your family may be in danger. So there's always that back door, it was my wife, my wife, okay. I knew my daughter was okay because she was in school. You know, nothing was happening collateral school at the time. But that played in the back of my mind the whole day until I knew my wife was home and my daughter, my father went, governor saw my father went and got my daughter at school and I knew she was accounted for and okay, so it changed your thinking pattern. So I can imagine to the technology was so different at the time. So you really didn't know as well as you might now, cell phone service was sporadic at best because one of the main towers was on top of that building. My gosh, so they had lost service right from the initial hits. And then when the buildings came down, that was a whole separate issue. But 20 122 people came through hoboken, whether it just hold my hand and listen, you're okay, now you're on this side, the river, you're a mile and a half away, you're gonna be okay. A lot of their concerns, A lot of the people's concerns was my partner, the people I work with. Um, you know, there was so many different things going through these people's minds And then you have people with physical injury. So um, 179 people were transported to the hospitals and we actually sent them outside of this area. They went to Clara Maass uh, in Belleville and we sent them um, all the way out to, uh, I can't think of the name of our Children, I mean we were going way out regional, it really affected, I mean we were just so affected in the northeast. I mean of course the whole country but Physically affected right here it was just like it is the epicenter of where everything happened. Um now I know I remember we talked before and you said the downtown bar area became a location after September 11 you know for operations. Tell me a little bit about that on on that morning when when when everything started to happen initially texas Arizona which is the bar right on the corner there at Hudson place on River Street. Uh they were very accommodating but they really didn't have a choice. We kind of told them this is gonna be a command center and they were like come on in. I mean they they welcomed us with open arms and they were giving us food and and they took care we made phone, we made a phone call from in there we need water and within an hour Poland spring truck pulled up and we thought they were going to drop like a pallet of water. They empty the truck for us. Oh my gosh so really community came together, tell me some of the businesses that CVS, they emptied their shelves of any kind of first aid and medical supplies they had and actually push shopping carriages to the triage area said you guys need if you can use to stake it. Um people even not only bars and restaurants, there's so many, I wouldn't start naming them because I couldn't name more, but everybody, the outpouring of support and the outpouring of the community. It just really no and um thank you go. It's it's so emotional, just joined Q citizen coming with a baked cupcakes. It's like you guys are gonna be here a while, you need to eat. It's incredible. It was the power of kindness was just so abundant that every day.
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