On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, current Valley Stream Fire Chief Eugene O’Brien II was at his home as he watched on TV as the World Trade Center’s North Tower burst into flames after a plane struck it at 8:46 a.m., followed 17 minutes later by a second plane that slammed into the South Tower.
At 10:30 a.m., a general alarm was transmitted, calling O’Brien and his fellow Valley Stream firefighters to report to their respective firehouses to provide mutual aid to New York City. From there, all department firefighters gathered with their trucks at Valley Stream Fire Department headquarters, on East Oxford Street and Rockaway Parkway, where a command post was set up.
Once the three fire chiefs at the time arrived at headquarters, head counts ensured that all personnel were present, and each volunteer was assigned to a truck. Meanwhile, radio communications were taking place between the Nassau County Fire Communications Bureau and all Nassau County Fire Departments to determine the number of available volunteers and equipment that could be sent into the city.
At 11:30 a.m., Chief Petry assumed command of the department and dispatched one engine company, one truck company and a heavy rescue company to the Brookfield Blvd. firehouse in Rosedale. Shortly after arriving there, they were relocated to the firehouse of the FDNY Princeton Street Tigers, Engine 303 in South Jamaica, Queens. O’Brien, a lieutenant at the time, manned the rescue company’s tower ladder. During their 14-hour stay in South Jamaica, O’Brien and his fellow firefighters responded to all alarms of fire in that area, one, a serious building fire. They were eventually released back to Valley Stream at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Chief O’Brien recalls watching the noticeably distraught faces of the FDNY firemen coming back to the firehouse. It was “hard to describe how you felt for these guys coming in knowing that their friends may have died.” O’Brien remembered a Queen’s lieutenant named Brian Hickey who was an old colleague of his and asked if he was still working at the fire house. He later learned that Hickey, 47, had been promoted to captain, joining the Rescue 4 company at the WTC site, and was one of the 343 firefighters that died that day. Hickey had kept a photo of his family inside his helmet.