Hoboken Fire Department Battalion Chiefs Reflect on Their Service on 9/11

As we all reflect on the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001, it is vital to acknowledge our fellow Americans whose lives were taken on that tragic day in our country’s history and never forget. 57 of them were Hoboken residents – and their memory will forever be a part of the city’s fabric. It was on that day that our city, along with the rest of the nation, was forced to deal with unimaginable circumstances, and the residents chose to come together and show support for one another in a way that will also never be forgotten. 

Whether you were in kindergarten at the time and have only realized the weight of that day in recent years; a first responder who jumped into action to do what you could to help your fellow Americans; or are a friend or family member who lost someone on that day – may we seek solace in knowing that in our darkest days, we can rely on one another to do our part to make the world a better and safer place for all.

Hoboken Girl had an opportunity to speak with Hoboken Fire Department Battalion Chief Luis Moyeno, Battalion Chief Mario Fini, Battalion Chief Joseph Turner, Battalion Chief Jason Cassesa, and Hoboken Fire Department Chief Anton Peskens about 9/11, where they were when they found out, what they did when they reported for duty, the most striking moments from working in Ground Zero, and what it means to be a Hoboken firefighter today.

Joining the Hoboken Fire Department

hfd luis moyeno

Luis G. Moyeno was born and raised in Hoboken and joined the Hoboken Fire Department in 1997. He is now a Battalion Chief – Group D Tour Commander. He was 25 years old when he reported for duty on 9/11 as a firefighter.

hfd mario fini

Mario Fini, a Hoboken resident since graduating college, joined the Hoboken Fire Department in 1997. He is now a Battalion Chief – Group B Tour Commander. He was 36 years old on 9/11. 

hfd joseph turner

Joseph Turner was born and raised in Hoboken and joined the Hoboken Fire Department in 1996. He is now a Battalion Chief – Floater. He was 29 years old when he reported for duty on 9/11 as a firefighter.

Jason Cassesa

Jason Cassesa was born and raised in Hoboken and joined the Hoboken Fire Department in 2001. He is now a Battalion Chief – Group A Tour Commander. He was 27 years old when he reported for duty on 9/11 as a firefighter. 

hfd Anton Peskens

Anton Peskens was born and raised in Hoboken and joined the Hoboken Fire Department in 1985. He is now the Fire Chief. He was 40 years old on 9/11, and a Lieutenant at the time.

Read More: A First-Responder’s Story of Hoboken on September 11th

Hearing the News

“At the time of the attacks, I was on the New Jersey Turnpike southbound driving a truck back to the warehouse from doing a delivery in Suffern, NY. As I was driving I was listening to the radio station and the music was interrupted with an announcement that a plane had crashed into the North Tower,” said Chief Moyeno. “On 9-11-2001 I was off duty and working my second job as a truck driver. When I made it to fire headquarters everyone was at the Hoboken Erie Lackawanna Train Station. At some point, I recall Deputy Chief Schwartz came back from the Train Station and we were told by Deputy Chief Schwartz that they had enough manpower at the current time, however, we would be needed for the second operational period. He ordered everyone there to come back in on overtime at 1800 hours and they would be given their assignments then.

“I was home watching the news when the first report of a fire or something hitting the WTC was reported. I was off that day and did not report to work. I was not called for OT, Chief Fini shared. “I came to Hoboken to assist in any way possible. I owned the building at 80 River Street, located right next to the PATH Station. I offered the building and its resources to all responding public safety personnel.”

“My company, Rescue 1, was at fire headquarters when we started to hear what was happening. I was working that day.  We responded to the Lackawanna Train Station where we were going to be assisting with evacuees coming into Hoboken from Lower Manhattan,” explained Chief Cassesa. “Our role that day as part of the HFD was to await arrivals from Lower Manhattan and treat anybody with injuries. We also needed to decontaminate a lot of civilians who arrived in Hoboken with debris on them.”

“The moment I learned an airplane had struck the World Trade Center I was at Home Depot and thought it was an accident, having no idea we were under attack. As a member of Group C I was scheduled to work Wednesday, 9/12 therefore I was not called in for overtime,” Chief Peskens told us.

Jumping Into Action

“At approximately 1800 I reported for duty and I was assigned to the decontamination team. My orders were to decontaminate every single person that came off the ferry boats with a 1 3/4” hose line,” said Chief Moyeno. “Two things about that day that sticks out most in my mind. The first is the image of the South Tower collapsing to the ground and knowing there was going to be a large loss of life. The second thing that I’ll never forget is looking at the faces of the people as they came off the ferry boats and approached the decontamination line. So many of them were covered from head to toe in soot, debris, and dust.

“I was at Hoboken Bagel on 6th & Washington St. and heard an announcement on a radio station that an airplane crashed into one of the towers. I thought it was an odd thing to hear and went right to the waterfront to see what was happening,” explained Chief Turner. “I was not working that day but did get called in for OT. I was just walking around town that morning. It wasn’t long before a department-wide recall went into effect and I responded to my firehouse to get my P.P.E. and head to the waterfront for an HFD response and triage to assist in what we knew would be a large scale incident, we just didn’t know how large. I spent hours (approximately 10AM until dark) performing various tasks as ordered such as apparatus/equipment placement to respond to any possible secondary threats, wash down of any persons arriving from New York City via ferry, and victim triage. At some point early in that time span, I would run into a woman who was brought back from NYC. I was just starting to date her at the time, maybe less than a month prior, her name is Jeannine and she has since become my wife and we have two children together.”

Ground Zero

hfd 9-11

^ Scene from Ground Zero

All five of them reported to Ground Zero, the active site where the Twin Towers fell, as a part of the search and rescue mission within 72 hours of the attack.

“On Thursday, September 13, 2001, I was part of a group of 30 Hoboken Fire Department members who volunteered to go to the Ground Zero pile and assist in the rescue and recovery efforts. On that day we boarded a bus at Fire Headquarters and drove through the Holland Tunnel to the West Side Highway where we then boarded a boat and were taken to Battery Park, and then walked to Ground Zero. I was a part of the “Bucket Brigade” working on the pile removing debris from the pile, placing it in a bucket, and passing the bucket back to the human chain of firefighters behind you. That was done one bucket at a time. Three things about that day that stand out to me. The first thing that occurred immediately after exiting the boat, and as we were walking towards the pile, a crane struck one of the buildings. All I saw were thousands of people running towards us to try to avoid being caught in another building collapsing, so all of us turned and started to run as well, the building never collapsed. The second thing that stood out about that day was how I felt when we finally made it into the pile. I remember saying to myself, I can’t believe the amount of destruction, this place looks like in a war-torn country. Lastly, I remember being on the pile and in our area, they found the helmet of an FDNY member. They removed everyone from the pile, with the exception of FDNY members. I later found out the reason for our removal was because FDNY did not want anyone else to find the remains of one of their own,” shared Chief Moyeno.

“I reported to Ground Zero and we all worked on the pile looking for any signs of life or any survivors. It was a surreal experience. Thousands of men and women all lined up in a bucket brigade. We filled buckets and then handed them to each other in a long line. What concerned me was that I could not identify any of the remains we were sifting through. Nothing was discernible. I thought I would see metal desks or filing cabinets, but there was just dust and small piles of rock and stone,” Chief Fini recounted. “Two difficult moments that I will never forget. One – As soon as we arrived, we are all walking onto the pile and we got an alert, people started to panic. We were told that one of the standing towers that was impacted by the collapse was starting to fall. This was a 40 to 50 story high-rise building. Everyone started running away from the potential collapse. The building did not fall but was razed by construction professionals many days later. Two – The most bone-chilling experience was while we were digging in an area with the HFD and FDNY, an FDNY officer found a white helmet in the ruble. He immediately asked all rescuers that were not FDNY to please step off the pile. He wanted only FDNY to search for one of the missing Chiefs. No one was found.”

hfd 9-11

^ Scene from Ground Zero

“I was at Ground Zero as instructed by my department on September 13th.  We’d spent approximately 12-15 hours there from about dinner time until the early morning of September 14th.  Primarily we spent most of that time on what I believe was called the bucket brigade, at least that’s what I referred to it as. Simply, it’s a human chain of volunteers who passed a bucket of debris back away from a site or area where it was believed to have potential victims/survivors. On a couple of occasions, we were told to keep quiet at a particular moment as the potential existed that someone could be heard calling out for help in some way,” Chief Turner described “I was very angry. We lost a lot.”

“I reported to Ground Zero and our job was to dig through debris to locate any survivors and to locate any remains,” said Chief Cassesa.

“I was part of a smaller contingent of Hoboken firefighters who responded to Ground Zero on Friday, September 15. We took the ferry over and worked our way towards the rubble pile. It was me and seven other firefighters who worked the bucket brigade,” said Chief Peskens. “What sticks out most of my mind about the day we spent on the rubble pile was the silence. In spite of the mass destruction all around us, things were still burning. When President Bush addressed all the first responders, you could’ve heard a pin drop. As time wears on I try to forget the events of that day, it left a black mark in my memories as a firefighter.”

See More: Donation Locations For Everything in Hoboken + Jersey City

Acts of Kindness

“After 9/11 I can recall many acts of kindness. I can specifically recall people coming to the firehouses and dropping off things like food. We received hundreds of letters from children across the country thanking us for our service, and residents constantly coming up to us shaking our hands or giving us a hug and thanking us for our service,” Chief Moyeno pointed out.

“I later made a decision to directly donate my OT payment to a friend’s family in NYC who I had previously worked with at the World Trade Center from 1993 to 1996. I just felt getting paid to work on that day didn’t sit well with me when so many had lost so much.  They sent that money back to me along with a letter of how appreciative they were for thinking of him,” said Chief Turner. “I also recall how extremely nice everyone was to each other in many different ways, too many to list and all very much appreciated. I will say though, receiving letters and drawings of appreciation from school children and their teachers were very special.”

“In the weeks that followed, there was an outpouring of goodwill and well wishes from every single person that walked past the firehouse – I’ll never forget,” Chief Peskens shared.

Community First

“Hoboken is embedded in my soul. I’ve lived here my entire life. There has never been a moment in my entire 24-year career that I have not felt honored, blessed, and privileged to serve not just Hoboken but the surrounding communities as well,” expressed Chief Moyeno.

“I was very proud to have participated in the search and rescue mission. I was still fairly new to the HFD, but I felt a desire and a calling to attempt to do whatever I could to assist in any way possible all of the victims of this tragic terrorist attack. I would also like to thank Chief Richard Blohm for arranging access to the WTC site and leading us that day in the recovery effort,” said Chief Fini. “I am truly honored to be a part of the Hoboken Fire Department. At the HFD I am surrounded by brave, dedicated men and women who love their job, love Hoboken, and work together each day to take on any challenge presented to us.”

“As I’m about to complete my 26th year of service with the Hoboken Fire Department, it does and has always meant the same.  I’m extremely thankful to be a first responder, and I am very proud to hold the position I do with the Hoboken Fire Department, the town in which I was born and raised, Chief Turner conveyed. “There’s so much history here, both personal and public. A lot of my family is still here and so many good friends as well. I’ve also embraced meeting so many new people over the years who now call Hoboken their home. Anywhere that I travel to and wear a Hoboken t-shirt, there’s usually someone who makes mention of it to me, the latest being in South Carolina when I dropped my daughter off to college a couple of weeks ago.”

We thank these brave men for doing their part on 9/11 and for continuing to serve the Hoboken community, putting the safety of residents before their own with pride and joy.

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Written by:

Victoria is HG's Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for the Hoboken Historical Museum + Fire Department Museum. She is a fourth-generation Hoboken native, BNR in the Mile Square, and Jersey City. Through playing softball in town for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two cities have a special place in her heart. When she isn’t Style Assisting or volunteering at Symposia Bookstore, she’s exploring everything the Concrete Jungle has to offer. You can catch her at art exhibitions, local festivities, traveling, diving into a new book, thrifting, or indulging in some form of arts and crafts.