By Olivia Scheck and Ben Fractenberg
MIDTOWN WEST — Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned terrorists that New York City's spirit could not be broken and praised the efforts of those that prevented Saturday's attempted terrorist attack during an appearance at a Midtown firehouse Tuesday morning.
"We will not be intimidated by those who hate the freedoms that make this city and this country so great," Bloomberg said, speaking from Engine Company 54's firehouse on Eighth Avenue and 48th Street.
“This was an act that was designed to kill innocent civilians and strike fear into the hearts of Americans," the mayor said. "And I’m happy to say that it failed on both counts."
This was not the first time Engine Co. 54 protected New Yorkers during a terrorist attack, the mayor noted. The firehouse lost 15 men on 9/11, Bloomberg said.
President Obama added to the mayor's praise of the city's fortitude and spirit, saying earlier in the day, "New Yorkers have reminded us again how to live with our heads held high."
On Saturday, Midtown firefighters responded to the scene after several Times Square vendors, including two Vietnam War veterans, alerted police to a suspicious-looking vehicle with white smoke leaking from the rear.
Wasting no time, the firefighters used what the mayor called "extraordinary judgment" to foil the bomb that lay inside the car.
At Tuesday's press conference, Bloomberg thanked both the firefighters and Lance Orton, one of the vendors who alerted police to the smoking car.
Orton, a Vietnam veteran, used a cane as he stood beside the thankful mayor.
"He did exactly what I keep saying every New Yorker should do – he saw something and he said something," Bloomberg said.
While less knowledgeable departments might have rushed to put out the fire that appeared to be inside the car, this group of servicemen knew better, the mayor said. Using thermal imaging cameras, fire officers determined that the smoke was emanating from something much more sinister than a car fire, Bloomberg explained.
"Once they saw that the only heat was coming from the engine itself and the smoke had a different source, they worked hand-in-hand with the NYPD to evacuate the area…so the bomb squad could arrive and do its work," he said.
The department's thoughtful actions were also crucial to preserving evidence left inside the car, according to the mayor.
"They knew not to apply water or any other extinguishing agent," he said. "Their quick thinking and restraint preserved important evidence that could be very significant in the ongoing investigation."
Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano echoed the mayor's statements, adding that last week's response proved "We are very prepared to handle [this type of] event."
Ordinary New Yorkers seemed to share the commissioner's confidence on Tuesday.
"New Yorkers are tough," explained Lorenzo Pettway, 40, who works downtown, while Roni Laytin, 19, a student at Pace University, who lives near Ground Zero, said she wasn't surprised by the vendor's actions.
"I think people know more since 9/11," she said. "People have become more attuned to procedure."