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Firefighters rode on Jamaica Bay to Ground Zero

For three Broad Channel FDNY brethren, their call to help with the first response efforts at the World Trade Center was so strong that they would not let anything, even Jamaica Bay, stop them from their duty.

On that day 10 years ago, Dan Mundy, 73, his younger brother Tom, 63, and his neighbor John Henglein, 50, were all in the neighborhood when the first tower was hit and they could see the damage on the horizon.

Although they were in different spots when they heard the news, the men knew the city was in trouble.

“As soon as that plane hit, I was sure that we were at war,” Dan Mundy said.

Tom Mundy said he was voting in the Tuesday primary at a nearby public school, so he immediately rushed home and began the drive to his Engine Co. 36 firehouse in Harlem, but the traffic was too heavy and he turned back. On his way back to Broad Channel, he got an idea and called Dan, who had recently purchased a motor boat, and asked if he could use it to get to the World Trade Center.

Dan Mundy, a retired firefighter, was already thinking the same thing and agreed, but he wanted to bring more men to the site. He called Henglein at Ladder Co. 142 in Ozone Park around the time that the father of three learned that the first tower had collapsed.

“I still remember it going down, and boom, and I got on my knees, because I knew we lost at least a hundred guys,” Henglein recalled.

Henglein immediately accepted Dan Mundy’s offer because at that point the FDNY was taking Queens members to the Trade Center on buses from LaGuardia Airport, and he knew that he could not get there quickly enough. Henglein, who has been with the Bravest for 25 years, brought three of his stationhouse comrades with him as well as equipment and less than an hour later, Dan Mundy was ready to set course for downtown Manhattan on Jamaica Bay.

Although Dan Mundy, a member of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, had been sailing around those waters for decades, the 45-minute trip was difficult to navigate.

“The smoke was so thick and I couldn’t see anything, but I could see the buoys and was able to make it,” he said.

During the trip one of the fighters was having cold feet, but Dan Mundy kept driving the boat and getting closer to Ground Zero.

In Lower Manhattan, the group unloaded their supplies onto the John J. Harvey, a former fireboat that had been converted into a historic visitor’s site, as Mundy’s boat rose and fell in the large swells of the harbor.  After the firefighters climbed into the Harvey, Dan Mundy began to worry.

Ten years later the memory of that moment is still overwhelming for Mundy, so his brother Tom picked up the threads of the story.

 He told me when he backed off and saw all the guys get off, he thought, “What the hell did I do?” Tom Mundy said.

After splitting up into two groups, the Queens firefighters went to different parts of the affected areas in downtown Manhattan. Tom Mundy wanted to put out the massive fire at Building 7, which eventually collapsed later that night, but his superiors ordered him out of that zone.

It was then that he met another man and his four-legged helper.

Scott Shields, a civilian who had been living in Manhattan and had trained his golden retriever Bear to find people, offered his services to the first responders. Although some of Tom Mundy’s comrades were skeptical, he allowed him to join in.

“I believed in him and the dog,” he said.

Mundy’s faith paid off as Bear was able to find clothing and material that belonged to missing firefighters and it led to the discovery of FDNY Chief Peter Ganci’s body. Henglein, in the meantime, was working at the pit and helping to operate heavy machinery to clear debris and get to trapped people.

He and other responders at the site saved a woman who was still alive more than 24 hours after the buildings toppled.

“That was a team effort,” said Henglein, who left Ground Zero the next night by a boat.

Tom Mundy gave tremendous credit to his brother Dan for leading the charge with his new boat.

“I was so proud of him taking that brand new thing he saved his entire life for,” he said.

Dan Mundy said he and his family breathed a huge sigh of relief when his brother and Henglein returned home, but he still regrets that many other firefighters lost their lives.

Nevertheless, he said he feels humbled that he was able to make a difference that day.

“Looking back now at the overall operation, I feel good,” he said. “The fact that this group was able to get together, everybody survived and everyone contributed, that makes me feel good. And apparently it was meant to be.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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