Fireman Lou Cacchioli: 911 eyewitness


Richard Moore

   ³My story was never mentioned in the final report and I felt
    like I was being put on trial in a court room,² said
    Cacchioli. ³I finally walked out. They were trying to twist
    my words and make the story fit only what they wanted to
    hear. All I wanted to do was tell the truth and when they
    wouldn¹t let me do that, I walked out."

Original source URL:

NY Fireman Lou Cacchioli Says 9/11 Comission Twisted His Words
Greg Szymanski | July 20 2005

New York fireman Lou Cacchioli looked the devil square in the eye the morning of
9/11. He stared him down, threw him aside and walked into the depths of hell 
like a true hero, knowing he may never walk out again.

Like a hero, he risked his life to save others, never once thinking about 
himself at a time when one wrong a turn, a slight move in the wrong direction, 
meant sure death.

Although he survived, a little bit of Lou Cacchioli died that tragic morning in 
the north tower.

A little bit of the Italian boy, born in northern Italy who came to New York at 
the age of 10, was left behind in the rubble along with thousands of unlucky 
souls who didn¹t make it out of hell that morning.

And if you look closely, a little bit of the Italian boy can still be seen 
hovering high above where the WTC once stood, flying high with the hearts and 
souls of his firefighter friends who perished that morning.

Look even closer through the clouds and you can probably still see a silhouette 
of Cacchioli and his best friend, Tommy Hedsall, both proudly wearing their FDNY
uniforms and still rescuing people in the north tower¹s 24th floor, the last 
place Cacchioli ever saw his friend alive.

Four years later, Cacchioli hasn¹t talked much about the nightmare he lived on 
9/11. First, he really didn¹t want to talk about. Next, he got tired of having 
his words twisted by the 9/11 Commission and finally, the New York media 
basically never sought him out to get the true account of what he saw and heard 
in the north tower right before the building collapsed.

Originally, on September 12, 2001, People Magazine ran a few short paragraphs 
about the 20-year veteran New York fireman hearing what sounded like bombs 
exploding in the north tower.

Short and sweet, that was it. A few short words about bombs exploding, but words
that were repeated over and over again in story after story by writers and 
broadcasters who never even bothered to talk to him in the first place.

After that, a little angry and a little disgusted, he pretty much disappeared 
into the New York landscape, his story only appearing in an obscure book 
released called ³American Spirit,² and his 2004 testimony given in private to 
the 9/11 Commission never released to the public in the commission¹s final 

So, it¹s safe to say Cacchioli¹s story, the story of an American hero, is 
probably unknown to most Americans even though 9/11 will be forever etched in 
everyone¹s hearts and souls for all time.

In a humble effort to set the 9/11 Commission¹s record straight and put the 
correct version of hero Lou Cacchioli¹s story back in the history books, here is
the unedited version, better late then never, as told by the man in an extended 
telephone conversation this week from his New York home:


Losing his buddies, his job and his health, there was time after 9/11 he 
seriously considered suicide. But after counseling, a bit of soul searching and 
a loving family, the man who went through the depths of hell is now a happy 

Although he¹s finally able to cope with the horror and grief of 9/11 after four 
long years, the tough-talking Italian with a heart of gold, admitted:

³I still have my moments, I still break down sometimes and I still go to 
counseling. But I feel a lot better, a whole lot better. I have a wonderful wife
of 30 years, three great children and now a little granddaughter. What more 
could a man want?²

And the man who almost lost it all after saving so many lives is back living 
safely on the ³happy side of heaven,² keeping close touch with the fire 
department he loves and vowing to never leave the streets of New York, the only 
life he really knows.

And like a true Italian, headstrong, independent and not afraid to speak his 
mind, he said:

³Nothing¹s going to push Lou Cacchioli out of this town, nothing!²

Cacchioli was one of those tough New York firefighters, the kind of guy you¹d 
like to have a coffee or beer with or the kind of guy who could talk your arm 
off about Yankee baseball.

For most of his career, ³Tough Lou² was a Company 47 engine man in the equally 
as tough Harlem District. He was the type of fireman who you picture sitting 
around the firehouse dinner table, shooting the breeze and talking war stories 
about the last big blaze up on 42nd Street.

He was the type of fearless New York fireman who, up until 9/11, thought he saw 
it all, including the WTC bombing in 1993.

But that was before 9/11. That was before Cacchioli was thrown into depths of 
hell when the Company 47 bell sounded, telling the fire crew to head to the 
south tower of the WTC.

And like the sound of the bell marking the 15th round at Madison Square Garden, 
it was the last bell Cacchioli ever heard, as he never worked another day for 
the FDNY after 9/11.

Although it was like someone ripped his heart out on January 4, 2002, when 
doctors told him due a pulmonary condition from the 9/11 contaminants he¹d never
work as a fireman again, Cacchioli somehow still finds the strength to recall 
what he calls the most horrifying day a man could ever imagine.

But back on 9/11, Cacchioli was in true form, headstrong and ready to take on 
the blaze like he¹d done so many times before. Although he readily admits ³none 
of the finest fireman in the world were prepared for 9/11,² he said never once 
did he think the buildings would topple, but at the same time, never did he 
think the fire could ever be contained.


When Co. 47 arrived with Cacchioli leading the way as the senior member of the 
crew, the second plane had already hit the south tower and they were told to 
head directly to the Marriot Hotel across from the WTC, since a fire was blazing
form debris falling from the towers. Cacchioli recalls hearing radio reports of 
³people jumping² and when he got closer to the Marriot, the reports turned into 

³I looked up and there were about 6 to 10 people flying through the air coming 
down right on us,² said Cacchioli. ³It was horrible when they hit the ground, 
something you had to turn your eyes away from. One of the jumpers landed 
directly on fireman Danny Sur, killing him on the spot. I remember saying, ŒOh 
my God, what are we getting into?¹²

Cacchioli then recalls entering the Marriot, trying to lead ³the kids² as he 
called them, adding that words could not describe the screaming and chaos 

³There was debris flying everywhere and it was just mass chaos,² said Cacchioli.
³At that point, orders were changing fast and furious and our company was 
directed to lend assistance in the north tower."


Although the Marriot was a bad scene, the north tower looked like a war zone. 
When he entered the lobby, Cacchioli recalls elevator doors completely blown out
and another scene of mass chaos with people running, screaming and being hit 
with debris.

³I remember thinking to myself, my God, how could this be happening so quickly 
if a plane hit way above. It didn¹t make sense,² said Cacchioli.

At that point, Cacchioli found one of the only functioning elevators, one only 
going as high as the 24th floor, a twist of fate that probably saved his life.

³Looking back if it was one of the elevators that went higher, I wouldn¹t be 
here talking today,² added Cacchioli.

As he made his way up along with men from Engine Co. 21, 22 and Ladder Co. 13, 
the doors opened on the 24th floor, a scene again that hardly made sense to the 
seasoned fireman, claiming the heavy dust and haze of smoke he encountered was 
unusual considering the location of the strike.

³Tommy Hedsal was with me and everybody else also gets out of the elevator when 
it stops on the 24th floor,² said Cacchioli, ³There was a huge amount of smoke. 
Tommy and I had to go back down the elevator for tools and no sooner did the 
elevators close behind us, we heard this huge explosion that sounded like a 
bomb. It was such a loud noise, it knocked off the lights and stalled the 

³Luckily, we weren¹t caught between floors and were able to pry open the doors. 
People were going crazy, yelling and screaming. And all the time, I am crawling 
low and making my way in the dark with a flashlight to the staircase and 
thinking Tommy is right behind me.

³I somehow got into the stairwell and there were more people there. When I began
to try and direct down, another huge explosion like the first one hits. This one
hits about two minutes later, although it¹s hard to tell, but I¹m thinking, ŒOh.
My God, these bastards put bombs in here like they did in 1993!¹

³But still it never crossed my mind the building was going to collapse. I really
only had two things on my mind and that was getting people out and saving lives.
That¹s what I was trained for and that¹s what I was going to do.

³I remember at that point in the stairwell between the 23rd and 24th floor, I 
threw myself down on the steps because of the smoke. It was pitch black, I had 
my mask on and I was crawling down the steps until I found the door on the 23rd 

When Cacchioli entered the 23rd floor, he found a ³little man² holding a 
handkerchief in front of his face and hiding under the standpipes on the wall, 
used for pumping water on the floor in case of fire.

Leading the man by the arm, he then ran into a group down the hall of about 35 
to 40 people, finding his way down the 23rd floor stairwell and beginning their 
descent to safety.

³Then as soon as we get in the stairwell, I hear another huge explosion like the
other two. Then I heard bang, bang, bang - huge bangs ­ and surmised later it 
was the floors pan caking on top of one another.

³I knew we had to get out of there fast and on the 12th floor a man even jumped 
on my back because he thought he couldn¹t make it any farther. Everybody was 
shocked and dazed and it was a miracle all of us got this far.²

When the group led by Cacchioli finally made it to the lobby level, he was 
unable to open the door at first, the concussion of the explosions or perhaps 
the south tower falling, jamming the lobby door.

Finally jarring it loose, the group entered the lobby finding total devastation 
with windows blown out and marble falling form the walls, but strangely no 
people. At that point, it was either left or right to an exit, Cacchioli, the 
man he originally found by the standpipes and another lady going right while the
others went left, a move which by the grace of God saved his life.

³It seemed like every move I made that morning was the right move,² said 
Cacchioli. ³I should have been killed at least five times. The people that went 
left didn¹t make it out, but we came out alive on West Street.²


After making sure the two civilians were attended to, Cacchioli went to his fire
truck finding Lance, the driver, who was attending to the truck and waiting for 
the crew to return.

Looking up at the north tower directly above, Cacchioli recalls not having the 
slightest idea when he exited that the south tower had already collapsed. He 
also remembers wondering about the fate of his crew members, the driver telling 
him two were missing and two others injured and already taken to the hospital.

³Next thing, we look up and see the tower collapsing. We saw it starting to come
down fast, Lance running towards the water to safety and I headed down West Side

Cacchioli said he remembers looking back at the north tower antenna falling, at 
the same time trying to stay ahead of the huge ball of black smoke gaining 
ground. He then threw of his mask to make himself lighter, a move that allowed 
him to run faster and perhaps save his life, while eventually having to throw 
himself on the ground from the heavy sawdust-like air mixed with glass that was 
choking him to death and taking away his vision.

Landing in debris, he luckily fell by the wheels of another fire truck, another 
twist of fate that may have saved his life, where he then managed to find a 
compressed air breathing mask. He then passed out and recalls waking up some 
time later after another fireman pulled him to safety.

³I don¹t really know how much time passed, but once I felt better, I quickly 
went back to look for my friends and stayed till I couldn¹t walk anymore,² said 
Cacchioli, who began crying when he talked about his close friend. ³They finally
found Tommy¹s body in the debris about 10 days later. I went back to Ground Zero
every day for a long time, going AWOL, until I finally went to a doctor and was 
put on medical leave.

³They were very good about it. Everybody understood. It got to the point I 
couldn¹t breadth anymore and I lost a lot of vision due to the broken glass 
getting into my eyes. Finally, the doctors told me in January 2002, I couldn¹t 
work and I remember feeling devastated like my whole world was coming to an end.

³I couldn¹t tell this story for the longest time and I have to admit it is still


Cacchioli was called to testify privately, but walked out on several members of 
the committee before they finished, feeling like he was being interrogated and 
cross-examined rather than simply allowed to tell the truth about what occurred 
in the north tower on 9/11.

³My story was never mentioned in the final report and I felt like I was being 
put on trial in a court room,² said Cacchioli. ³I finally walked out. They were 
trying to twist my words and make the story fit only what they wanted to hear. 
All I wanted to do was tell the truth and when they wouldn¹t let me do that, I 
walked out.

³It was a disgrace to everyone, the victims and the family members who lost 
loved ones. I don¹t agree with the 9/11 Commission. The whole experience was 


Cacchioli spends a majority of his spare time hanging around the firehouse, 
trying to stay in touch with the department he loves and trying to lend a hand 
to some of the younger kids in the department.

³I talk to the kids and I want to make sure they are keeping up to snuff so 
they¹re ready if something happens,² said Cacchioli, who also plays softball in 
the FDNY league, something he regularly did when he was on active duty. ³I don¹t
want to lose this connection because the fire department is a part of who I am 
and who I always will be.²

Asked if he ever was pressured to keep quiet about his 9/11 experience, he 

³Nobody has bothered me. I don¹t think I should be bothered. I know what 
happened that day and I know the whole truth hasn¹t come out yet. I have my own 
conscience, my own mind and no one, I mean no one, is going to force Lou 
Cacchioli to say something that didn¹t happen and wasn¹t the truth.²

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