Local fire chief recounts his part in rescue efforts

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

As a lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department, Raul Muniz escaped death by mere minutes at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The Portales Fire Chief shared his story Monday morning at a memorial in Portales for the victims of 9/11.

Muniz told the crowd assembled in the Portales National Bank parking lot that he had gotten into work early that day to beat traffic as he often did, and was still enjoying his morning coffee when the initial reports came into his station.

Assigned to a ladder truck not far from the World Trade Center, Muniz said he knew that he and his company would soon be called to the scene, and they immediately began getting ready.

“I knew it would probably be the biggest fire ever in New York City,” Muniz said, commenting they could see the flames from the roof of the station. “Little did we know what would actually happen.”

Muniz, who has been with the Portales Fire Department since December, told the PNT that his thoughts Monday were with the good friends, some he had known for 20 years, who were lost that day. He said, as he spoke Monday, he was transformed back to that day.

“Some higher power just put his hands on me that day,” Muniz said. “I believe he had a higher purpose for me.”

Right after the second plane struck the World Trade Center, Muniz says the computer system that dispatched his station went crazy, and that’s when his company was instructed to respond.

He said that somehow, through the chaos on the radio, they got instructions to respond into the second tower that was hit. Because of abandoned vehicles and blocked roads, they had to leave their truck three or four blocks away and walk to the building. He said by the time they approached the site, they had to use caution because a large number of people were already jumping from the building in despair.

Muniz commented to the crowd that the first fireman killed that day died after being struck by a jumper.

He and his men reached the 10th floor of the building, where they were ordered to stage, carrying with them their heavy equipment. A commander soon decided they had too many firefighters at that location, and ordered some companies back down.

Muniz and his men helped people out of the building as they went down, then came back into the command center in the lobby.
About that time they received reports of people trapped in a building across the street needing help. The commanding officer began to choose who would respond.

“He picked from those on his left side when choosing the companies to send,” Muniz said. “If he had picked from the right side, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Minutes after they arrived in the other building, the tower he had just been in collapsed.

Muniz said it is difficult to find the words to accurately describe what he and other responders saw at the scene that day. He said when they emerged from the building, they were immediately covered in a white powder. He remembers the immense cloud of dust, the numerous fires around the scene and huge holes in the ground that threatened to swallow him and his men if they didn’t stay on guard for the dangers.

“If there’s a hell on Earth, we saw it that morning,” Muniz said.

Muniz says that miraculously all from his company survived that day. He said that when they were finally released from the scene the next morning they were so tired they couldn’t even lift their arms above their heads. But because they had been forced to park so far away, their truck was intact.

In introducing the program Monday, David Stone, president of Portales National Bank, which sponsored the memorial, likened the sacrifices of Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese.

“I was 4 months old when Pearl Harbor happened.The next day my dad was called up to active duty,” Stone said. “He didn’t come home until my fourth birthday.”

Stone called on the crowd to defend the right of freedom of speech and to exercise it themselves and speak out against those who question the government’s actions in the War on Terror.

Muniz said it was difficult in the beginning to talk about what happened that day. He said eventually he felt it was necessary to do so, however.

“All of us who were there that day speak because we have a duty to tell you what happened that day, so that we will never forget,” Muniz said.