The Last Stand of Ladder 118: Heroes of 9/11

On the 11th of September, 2001, Aaron McLamb had just arrived at his workplace close to the Brooklyn Bridge when the initial aircraft collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Eighteen minutes later, he witnessed in astonishment from his 10th-floor view as the second plane ripped into the South Tower. The 20-year-old hurried for his camera to capture a profound moment in American history.

“It felt almost surreal, being that elevated looking at everything unfolding beneath,” he recounted to New York Daily News. “You couldn’t perceive the crackling of the fire or the groaning of the buildings. The only sound that reached us were the sirens from the fire trucks heading across the bridge.”

He then took an indelible photograph of the Ladder 118 fire truck racing towards its fate, with the Twin Towers billowing smoke in the backdrop.

On that Tuesday morning, firefighters were stationed at the Middagh St. firehouse, poised for action. Moments after the second plane crash, the call of disaster arrived. Firefighters Vernon Cherry, Leon Smith, Joey Agnello, Robert Regan, Pete Vega, and Scott Davidson leapt into the Ladder 118 fire truck and were en route.

Vernon Cherry had been considering retirement by year-end. The 49-year-old had served as a firefighter for nearly 30 years and had carved a niche for himself during that span. Not only was he one of the few black firefighters in New York in 2001, he was also a gifted vocalist.

Another man shattering racial barriers on the team, Leon Smith, was a proud member of the Vulcan Society, an association for black firefighters. He had always aspired to aid people and had been with the FDNY since 1982.

Joseph Agnello was anticipating celebrating his forthcoming 36th birthday when Ladder 118 received the call on 9/11. He was a proud father of two young sons.

Lt. Robert “Bobby” Regan was also a family man. He had embarked on his career as a civil engineer but joined the FDNY when his daughter was born to spend more time with her.

Similar to his lieutenant, Pete Vega did not commence as a firefighter. Instead, he had spent six years in the U.S. Air Force, serving in Desert Storm before receiving an honorable discharge. He transitioned to a firefighter in 1995, and in 2001 he had just completed a B.A. in Liberal Arts from the City College of New York.

Scott Davidson — the father of Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson — kicked off his firefighting career just a year prior to Vega. He was renowned for his wit, his heart of gold, and his fondness for Christmas.

Simultaneously, as the Ladder 118 crew sped toward the inferno, Aaron McLamb paused his duties at a Jehovah’s Witness facility — where he printed Bibles — to witness smoke blanketing the city.

“At that juncture, we comprehended that it was some form of deliberate act,” McLamb recounted. “The significant ‘t’ word (terrorism) was not on everybody’s lips then, but it was implicit that something calculated just transpired.”

The young man had grown up yearning to be a fireman, often halting by the Middagh St. firehouse to admire the trucks, so he waited for the rig to traverse the bridge.

“I recollect telling one of my colleagues, ‘Here comes the 118,’” he shared.

As it raced by, he captured the glimmer of crimson before it reached the city. Little did he fathom that this photograph would come to symbolize the sacrifice of hundreds of first responders during the 9/11 onslaught.

Unbeknownst to him, McLamb had eternally enshrined this team’s ultimate mission. None of the six firefighters on Ladder 118 emerged from the debris that day.

Post crossing the bridge, Ladder 118 arrived at the ill-fated Marriott World Trade Center hotel. The six firefighters ascended the stairs and aided numerous frantic guests in their escape.

Bobby Graff, a mechanic at the hotel, conveyed: “They comprehended the gravity of the situation, and they stood firm. They weren’t going to abandon until everyone was out. They must have rescued a couple hundred people that day. I know they saved my life.”

Ultimately, over 900 guests were rescued that day. Nevertheless, when the Twin Towers finally crumbled, the hotel succumbed with them. So did hundreds of firefighters, including the six members on Ladder 118.

All but one of their remains were unearthed months later, some lying just a few feet apart. Because of this, Agnello, Vega, and Cherry were laid to rest in neighboring plots in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

As Joey Agnello’s spouse affirmed, “They were discovered side by side, and they should rest side by side.”

A week after the assaults, McLamb brought a stack of his processed photographs from that day to the firehouse. The remaining firefighters at the Brooklyn Heights location recognized the trademarks of Ladder 118.

“Once we realized it was ours, it sent chills down your spine,” recounted retired firefighter John Sorrentino in an interview with New York Daily News.

McLamb furnished his photograph to the New York Daily News, and shortly after, it graced the front page.

Like other renowned photographs from the terror attack on 9/11, the image of the ill-fated fire truck now embodies the patriotism and tragedy of that September day.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words,” Sorrentino reflected. “I don’t think there’s any word that encapsulates that picture.”

While many have grappled with survivor’s remorse after the assaults, Aaron McLamb, being one of them, those acquainted with the Ladder 118 crew have discovered a means to commemorate them.

At their former firehouse, the duty board remains untouched since that September morning, the names of the six men still inscribed in chalk adjacent to their assignments.

Their portraits have also been displayed, alongside Robert Wallace and Martin Egan, two other firefighters from that firehouse who perished that day.

Article Source: ATI

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