Whitestone firefighter looks back on ordeal

By Alexander Dworkowitz

Although he was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, Whitestone resident Armando Reno was one of the last people in the country to learn of the fate of the Twin Towers and the thousands trapped within the buildings.

Reno and the others in Engine Co. 65 on West 43rd Street in Manhattan were called to the World Trade Center shortly after the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:48 a.m., and the company arrived on the scene only six minutes later after the call.

While putting out a fire in two cars surrounding the building, Reno was knocked unconscious. He awoke in Bellevue Hospital late that evening and was not told the full extent of the destruction until the following day.

“The next day I really found out about it, the loss of life and everything,” he said.

The 55-year-old Reno returned home to Whitestone and his wife and children Sept. 17. He suffered a broken left shoulder and a broken right foot, as well as numerous bruises all over his body. He does not know how he received his injuries. All he knows is that while unconscious, he was pulled away from the collapsing Twin Towers by the men he has worked with for 29 years.

“Those guys are the greatest,” he said of his company. “They helped me out. They got me out of there.”

Reno is not the only Whitestone firefighter involved with the World Trade Center disaster. Eugene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, is the commanding officer of Engine Co. 10 on Liberty Street, just south of ground zero. Although not on duty at the time of the attacks, Kelty has been working on the rescue effort at Ground Zero ever since.

Luckily, no one in Reno’s company was killed on Sept. 11. But like all firefighters in the city, Reno and his company know many colleagues from throughout the city who lost their lives.

“I looked at the list of the dead and the missing, and I know a lot of those guys,” Reno said.

Reno emphasized that he and his company as well as the rest of the firefighters who charged toward the World Trade Center had no idea that the buildings might topple.

“We knew it was a fire; a guy saw it on television and told us it was a plane crash,” he said. Reno said he immediately thought of the Empire State Building, accidentally hit by a plane in July 1945. “Nobody thought of anything like [a collapse]. That was the furthest thing from our minds.”

Reno is expected to make a full recovery in the upcoming months. A firefighter for almost three decades, he said he had considered retirement but is eager to return to the job.

“Right now, I can see nothing that’s holding me back, but we’ll see. I miss the excitement.”

Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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