There's a case to be made that the names of the two firefighters who died here in New York on Saturday, Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino, belong on the rolls of 9-11 victims. The sad, protracted saga of the Deutsche Bank building took a crushing, pathetic turn when we learned that two of the city's bravest had given their lives inside that sorry, broken structure. It was a strange feeling when I saw the first television pictures of the fire on Saturday. I didn't want to give the 9-11 planners or sympathizers the satisfaction of knowing that the hell they unleashed on this city continues to take lives—in this case a result of the serially-delayed dismantling of a building that long ago became toxic and dangerous.
Writing in The New York Times, Michael Wilson today called the Deutsche Bank tower "the ghostly black building," which once was a gleaming, 41-story presence in lower Manhattan. It was fatally scarred by a piece of the World Trade Center on 9-11, and has existed ever since as a standing burial ground of sorts for hundreds of human remains that have been found, some recently, in its various recesses. All of us who pass by Ground Zero, where a commuter train station now partially and meekly fills the awful void where those two towers stood, have come to look at the Deutsche Bank building as a high-rise monument to bureaucracy and delays and inaction—a black-shrouded scar from that day that is still with us today.
As a member of a volunteer engine company in New Jersey decades ago, I remember our Fire Academy instructor telling us that exertion and nerves would quickly exhaust the air in the breathing apparatus tanks we carried on our backs. We could count on about 20 minutes worth of air in our tanks—no more—and to a man we were all amazed at how quickly we exhausted our air supply during our first simulated live-fire drill inside a burning building. On Saturday, two veteran firefighters ran out of air, and ran out of time. It is heartbreaking to think of the incredible exertions and heroic efforts of those men on Saturday, the family members they leave behind, and the compounded loss to their firehouse (New York's Engine 24/Ladder 5) where they lost 11 of the very best on 9-11. And now two more. While no single death on 9-11 yields to another in terms of sadness or importance, we can never forget that the first-responders who died—died going in to help. And now two more.
We have a hurricane to cover, and the moment we're off the air tonight, our crews and correspondents positioned on Mexico's Gulf coast will prepare for the onslaught of Hurricane Dean. While Americans are closely tracking the westward progress of this huge storm, the suffering will likely be concentrated in Mexico, and it's a story we're in place to report.
We have a nightmare of air travel to report tonight as well. While it's not comfortable viewing for any of us who travel frequently, it is an important snapshot of the difficulties in point-to-point commercial air travel in this day and age.
Please take a moment to read today's Medal of Honor recipient biography. We're glad to have you back after another summer weekend, as we begin another week. We hope you can join us for tonight's Nightly News.