A Conversation With Daniel Salsedo, a retired New York City fire fighter and current owner of Vincenzo’s Pizza and The Ice Cream Club on Main Street, Sag Harbor. On August 23, Salsedo, who was deployed to the World Trade Center site the morning of September 11, 2001, rode in the Iron and Steel Bike Run from New York City to Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The motorcycle ride, led by the NYC Fire Riders Club and organized by the Fire Family Transport Foundation, brought along a steel cross from the World Trade Center site to place at the site in Shanksville, where Flight 93 crashed.
When did you retire from the New York City Fire Department?
I retired in 2006. I retired because of what happened at the World Trade Center. Since September 11, I have had problems with my lungs, which is typical of a lot of the stories you read about for the guys that were down there. We have a lot of lung issues.
Where were you on September 11, 2001?
I was in the Bronx working at Engine 71. I was actually supposed to get off. I had just worked a 24-hour shift and was suppose to leave around 9 a.m., but they told everyone none of us could leave — we might be going down to the World Trade Center. So I stayed, and one of our chiefs commandeered a bus. The passengers got off and a bunch of us went down to the trade center site just after the first tower collapsed. I got there just after the second tower had fallen. We weren’t really sure what was going on and looking back, I guess it was good that we got there when we did because otherwise we would have been in the mix. Three hundred and forty three of our guys were killed, and that is just the fire department, let alone the thousands of citizens who died.
Basically, once we were there, we just did our work. I was there until 2 a.m. that day and everyday after I went back. I didn’t come home [to East Hampton] until the Friday after, and Saturday, I was back in the city.
Â You were already living on the East End and commuting to the city?
I am originally from Queens, but I had moved out here by the time I got the call for the fire department. I wound up staying here and doing the commute, which wasn’t too bad because we generally worked in 24-hour shifts. Although they were babies at the time, I wanted my kids to go to school out here. I didn’t want them to go to the same high school I did in Hillcrest. I didn’t really mind anyway. Working in the fire department is the greatest job in the world.
Â What was the World Trade Center site like that morning?
It was a mess … a completely chaotic pile. It was really, really bad. Nothing was recognizable. Everything was burning. We were there when building seven fell down. It was a complete, fiery mess — like hell. Everything was pretty much pulverized. You think about the hundreds of thousands of computers in the World Trade Center and it was all dust. Nothing was recovered. Of course, there were bodies, parts. We collected everything we could for weeks on end. Some could handle it more than others. It was terrible
Â Certainly there were other guys there in far deeper than I was. Sometimes we have problems expressing how we feel about all of this because we don’t want to belittle what anyone else went through, which could have been a lot worse. I consider myself pretty lucky.
I am out of the job, and I do wish I was back in it, but I didn’t have a choice. It was up to the fire department and after I was tested I was told I had to retire. It is all kind of bittersweet. It’s great that I am okay and I have my pension, but it’s sad because I miss the job, I miss my friends. I think it feels especially strange for guys like me who were prematurely out of the job. I had nine years under my belt instead of 20 — I am still raring to go.
It’s all been pretty tough to deal with actually. The fire department has offered everyone a lot of counseling, which I have gone through. It helps to talk about it with other guys who went through it. We need it. I start again on Monday.
Â How did the Iron and Steel Bike Run come about?
I can’t take any credit for it honestly. Other people had everything to do with it. I am a member of the Fire Riders, a New York City based fireman’s motorcycle club. We have a lot of members and try to do as many motorcycle runs, and of course, anything that has to do with donating and helping out causes like this. So this came up and we were told we would be leading the procession because we are all firemen and most us were at Ground Zero. I was thrilled to be able to do this in honor of the people at Ground Zero and in honor of the people on Flight 93, who gave up their lives that day too.
The trip was really awesome. It was a beautiful day and the escort we received was incredible. Every bridge we passed under there were fire trucks and people waving and saluting. It was nice to see that people still remember what happened.
We had a great turnout too. Hundreds and hundreds of bikes traveled that day.
How does it feel now that seven years have passed? Do you have anything you do each year to commemorate the anniversary?
It is still a very, very difficult day. Every 9/11, I go back to the Bronx and back to my old engine company. My company was actually in Queens, but the fire department rotates companies, so in 2001, I was in the Bronx, so that is where I go every year. I think I missed one — the year right after. I think it might have been too much. So, I’ll be in the Bronx and they put out a spread of food and I get to see all the guys I was down there with … I feel my place every year is there. I don’t even go to the trade center — it’s just too chaotic.
In photo at top, Dan Salsedo is in the center. Photo by Brenda Lang.