Excerpts of more than 500 firefighters' oral histories of their experiences on Sept. 11, 2001, released Friday along with more than 15 hours of radio transmissions:

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"People were grabbing onto us. We were picking up people, because they were still — after it was black, there was screaming in the beginning and we were shouting. We were saying 'Don't worry, we're with the Fire Department. Everybody is going to get out.' I remember saying stuff like that, which is pretty wild, actually. We were just as scared as anybody else. We were just victims too. Basically the only difference between us and the victims is we had flashlights."

— Firefighter James Murphy, who was trapped in the mall below the World Trade Center with dozens of frightened civilians.

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"We were watching it. We could see it from here. We have an unobstructed view. The other guys came up too. All six of us were on the roof. We were sitting around looking at it, and I remember one guy saying, "You're going to earn your pay today, guys. I just remember that."

— Firefighter Murphy, who began the day watching the crisis unfold from the roof of his firehouse.

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"Somebody yelled something was falling. We didn't know if it was desks coming out. It turned out it was people coming out, and they started coming out one after the other. ... We saw the jumpers coming. We didn't know what it was at first, but then the first body hit and then we knew what it was. And they were just like constant. ... I was getting sick. I felt like I was intruding on a sacrament. They were choosing to die and I was watching them and shouldn't have been. So me and another guy turned away and looked at a wall and we could still hear them hit."

— Firefighter Maureen McArdle-Schulman

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"We didn't realize Two World Trade was hit by an airplane, so we kept going up. It was single file, civilians going down and firemen going up. The civilians were orderly and blessing us and helping the injured down.

"We made it up to the — I believe the 35th story. We were taking a breather. I was on my knees, catching my breath, and we were discussing — we were going to hook up with another engine company to make it up there — easier to get up there. We were going to have some guys just take cylinders and the other guys take hoses, but we felt this rumble and this noise, like a train was going through your living room. Felt like an earthquake.

A few minutes later, a chief — someone told me he believed it was 11 Battalion — said to drop everything and get out, get out. He didn't say why. He just said, `Drop everything and get out.' Probably said it a couple of times. So basically, that's what guys did."

— Firefighter Marcel Claes, who was in the north tower

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"It was evident that we weren't going to be able to get to people above the fire. Based on the number of jumpers, we could only assume that hundreds of people were trapped. ... Then the building started to come down. My initial reaction was that this was exactly the way it looks when they show you those implosions on TV. I would have to say for three or four seconds anyway, maybe longer, I was just watching. It was interesting to watch, but the thing that woke everybody up was the cloud of black material. It reminded me of 'The Ten Commandments' when the green clouds come down on the street."

— Deputy Commissioner Thomas Fitzpatrick, who was in the lobby of the north tower

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"There were still civilians coming down the stairs, and in my opinion, there was no one thing ... that made me decide to get out. I can't tell you. I can't pinpoint anything. It was just — I don't know what it was. It was just the culmination of intuition or what. I just decided it was time to go ... I received no handie-talkie communications to get out. ... No one told me to get out. ... Absolutely nothing. There was no handie-talkie communications that I heard. Whether they transmitted them or not, I can't say. I didn't hear it. I didn't hear it."

— Firefighter Thomas Piambino

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"I realized — we have people up there, the building is loaded with our guys. We got to get them out of there. I tried to call Chief Ganci on the handie talky. I was calling car 3. For some reason we couldn't touch base. ... I was trying to find him, to let him know we still got a lot of people in the north building. We got to get them out of there and that's when Tower One came down."

— Chief Salvatore Cassano, who was at the command post with Chief of Department Peter Ganci, who was later killed after the two were separated. Ganci was the highest-ranking firefighter who died that day.

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"Chief Cassano was the first one — and this was early in the operation. He said: `Mike, if these buildings come down, we're in a terrible spot. We're right under these buildings.' He said,`What we've got to do is get one of these buildings, one of the World Financial Center buildings, open.'

"I went back to Chief Cassano and said, `Chief, I have a building. I have a building for you.' Chief Cassano said, `Great. We're moving the command post.' We went over and spoke to Chief Ganci, who was heavily engaged in deploying men. Chief Ganci looked around. He saw that there were companies in the process of staging. He had, I would say, between 30 to 50, maybe 60 men there.

"Chief Cassano went over and speak to Chief Ganci directly. Chief Ganci saw that there was no way we were going to be able to move the command post. There were just too many people. It just simply wasn't going to happen. He turned to Chief Cassano and said, `No, we're not going to be able to do this.' Chief Cassano turned to me and kind of shrugged like it was a good idea and it was something we should have done, but it just wasn't going to happen."

— Fire Capt. Michael Donovan

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"Guys were deciding to take elevators, not to take elevators. There was a security guy there who said, 'Actually, I can get you up on an elevator.' ... You could hear maydays going over the radio at that point. It was just so many, I really didn't know where they were coming from. Then we started walking actually back toward Tower One and a cop and a battalion chief came up to us and said, 'Just start running the other way. The other tower is coming down."'

— Firefighter Thomas Turilli

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After the towers collapsed, "at this point, the radio was pretty open because there weren't a lot of survivors really. Guys ran in different directions. It has a lot to do with the choices you made: which direction you ran, what you decided to do, how close to the buildings you stayed, your sense of urgency, all of those things. ... Even at that point, I knew in my mind that firefighters were killed or injured in the last 45 minutes or whatever during what happened, but I still didn't realize the scope of it."

— Fire Lt. Warren Smith