NEW YORK – Firefighters who watched a nationally broadcast documentary of their Sept. 11 World Trade Center rescue effort said it was an accurate, sensitive account of the day in which 343 of their colleagues died.
Firefighters gathered at firehouses and homes, with friends and family, to watch 9/11, which aired on CBS Sunday night. Hosted by Robert De Niro, the program presented video footage shot by two French filmmakers who were working on a documentary about a firehouse a few blocks from the twin towers.
Some relatives of Sept. 11 victims had urged CBS not to air the program out of concern that the memory of the attacks was too fresh.
"It's history, and history's got to be documented, and it's got to be shown to the world," said retired firefighter John Vigiano, who lost both his sons in the terrorist attack.
The filmmakers, brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet, were with members of the firehouse when they saw a jetliner crash into one of the towers Sept. 11.
The footage contains graphic language and the sounds of bodies — people who jumped from the 110-story towers — hitting the ground.
"This is a broadcast about strength and courage as well as remembering the pain," CBS executive producer Susan Zirinsky said. "I think the timing is right."
The documentary shows fire officials setting up a command post in the north tower lobby, shot by Jules Naudet. Simultaneous footage shot by Gedeon Naudet shows the action from the streets of lower Manhattan. Firefighters in the north tower are seen running for safety after the collapse of the south tower.
Firefighter John Morabito was about 200 feet from Jules Naudet in the north tower.
"It definitely captures a true feeling of what it was like in the building," he said. "You had a sense of terror. You had a sense of panic. You had a sense of urgency. Just multiply that by 100."
Firefighter Jeff Coniglio rushed up the stairs of the north tower Sept. 11. He made it to the 31st floor before the south tower fell and he was ordered to evacuate.
"I was there. I lived it," he said. "I thought (the documentary) was very responsibly and tastefully done, and it was truly, truly sad to watch it. It was reliving the whole day, moment for moment."
Firefighter Tom Dunn said the video captured the confusion of Sept. 11 among firefighters with little information about what was happening around them.
"They did a really super job of turning it into a story that is pretty right on," said Dunn, whose company lost two men. "The rest of the world knew. Everyone that was home and watching CNN had more information than we did. There was a lot of confusion there and that added to the stress of not knowing what to do."
Firefighter Michael Crowell, who cried as he watched the show at his home, said the documentary reminded him of the guilt he has felt since surviving the collapse of the twin towers.
"These guys died doing something that we all wanted to do," he said. "Courage is when you're afraid but you do it anyway, and that's what these guys depicted — faces of courage, but ready to go. They looked unsure, but I don't think there was a fearful face on any of them."
Vigiano said while he watched the show he was looking for any sign of his son Joe Vigiano, a police officer last seen in the north tower.
"I taped it, and I'll run it back and forth until I can be sure," he said.