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Profile: New York City Fire Department (FDNY)
New York City Fire Department (FDNY) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey holds a drill at the World Trade Center based on the scenario of a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. Numerous agencies participate in the drill, which is held on a Sunday. As well as the Port Authority, these include the New York City Fire Department, the New York City Police Department, and the Emergency Medical Services. Guy Tozzoli, the director of the Port Authority’s World Trade Department, will describe the drill during a legislative hearing in 1993 (see (March 29, 1993)). He will recall that the Port Authority simulates the “total disaster” of “the airplane hitting the building” and participants simulate “blood coming out of people.” He will add that the drill is “a real preparation for a disaster.” [Newsday, 11/12/2001; Dwyer and Flynn, 2005, pp. 58-59] (During the hearing, Tozzoli will mistakenly recall the drill being conducted in the late 1970s, but it is in fact held in November 1982. [Dwyer and Flynn, 2005, pp. 274] ) The drill follows an incident in 1981, when an Argentine aircraft came within 90 seconds of crashing into the WTC’s North Tower as a result of having problems communicating with air traffic controllers (see February 20, 1981). Asked about the drill shortly after 9/11, Tozzoli will say it was held “just to have people trained within the city for that particular scenario [of a plane hitting the WTC].” The 1982 exercise appears to be the last “joint drill involving all the emergency responders” held at the WTC prior to the 9/11 attacks, 19 years later, according to New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. [Newsday, 11/12/2001; Dwyer and Flynn, 2005, pp. 59]
New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) conducts a training exercise called Operation ICE, which is designed to prepare emergency response workers for the possibility of a terrorist attack and includes a simulated chemical attack near the World Trade Center. [City of New York, 11/9/1997; New York Times, 11/9/1997; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] Operation ICE is the largest terrorism response exercise ever conducted by the city. Its aim, according to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is “to see what would happen if in fact there was a chemical attack and to see how police, fire, EMS [emergency medical services], hospitals, the FBI… would all respond.” [New York Daily News, 11/10/1997; New York Times, 11/10/1997]
Volunteers Go to Hospitals with the Symptoms of Chemical Exposure - Operation ICE incorporates a series of field and tabletop exercises. It consists of three interconnected training events, called MEDEX, FIELDEX, and INFRAEX. MEDEX, apparently the first event to take place, is held on November 8. Forty-one city hospitals are involved in it. The aim is for the emergency workers who participate to learn how to deal with and treat “walk-in, self-referred” patients who arrive at emergency rooms minutes or hours after they have been exposed to a chemical agent. Volunteers, playing the victims, visit the hospitals, complaining about various symptoms. Hospital personnel have to determine the type of chemical exposure that matches the symptoms and decide how to treat the victims. [New York Times, 11/9/1997; Fire Engineering, 3/1998]
Field Exercise Is Held near the WTC - FIELDEX, which is the centerpiece of Operation ICE, takes place a day later, on November 9. This is an elaborate field training exercise involving a simulated chemical attack at a large public gathering. It is directed by Jerome Hauer, head of the OEM, and more than 600 emergency response workers take part. They belong to agencies including the New York Police Department, the New York Fire Department, the FBI, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the Departments of Defense, Environmental Protection, Health, and Transportation. [City of New York, 11/9/1997; New York Times, 11/10/1997] The exercise is held less than a mile away from the WTC, on Greenwich Street, between Hubert and North Moore Streets. [New York Daily News, 11/10/1997] It takes place “eerily in the shadow of the Twin Towers,” Giuliani will later comment. [Giuliani, 2002, pp. 63]
Islamic Terrorists Release a Lethal Gas in the Simulation - The scenario for the exercise involves a rally held by a controversial political group. This is “a greed-is-good kind of group,” Giuliani will say. A speaker at the rally explains the group’s philosophy, which gets his listeners angry, and two or three of them consequently attack the group. They release VX, a deadly nerve gas, killing 21 people and injuring at least 27. The mock attackers are Islamic terrorists, according to Giuliani. Red Cross volunteers and police cadets pretend to be victims of the attack, while several mannequins represent people who have been killed. FIELDEX lasts for four hours. [New York Daily News, 11/10/1997; New York Times, 11/10/1997; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004]
Real Bomb Goes Off before the Exercise Starts - Participating emergency response workers are unaware of the details of the scenario before the exercise begins. “[W]e know to be prepared, that it is going to happen, but haven’t been given any particulars,” one law enforcement official comments. [New York Times, 11/9/1997] Local residents reportedly approve of the exercise, despite the disruption it causes. One woman remarks that she feels it “needs to be done” because, she says, “Living downtown, we are a direct target for this kind of threat, with the World Trade Center and everything.” [New York Daily News, 11/10/1997] Ironically, two hours before the exercise commences, a real but crude bomb explodes in front of an office building a few blocks away from where the exercise is held. No advance warning is given but, fortunately, no one is injured. No one will take responsibility for the bombing. [New York Times, 11/10/1997]
Exercise Is Mostly Funded by the Defense Department - The INFRAEX segment of Operation ICE consists of a workshop that considers how the simulated attack would affect the city’s infrastructure, and how any adverse effects could be minimized and corrected. The date when this part of the exercise is held is unstated. [Fire Engineering, 3/1998] Operation ICE is the culmination of a yearlong disaster preparedness project. [City of New York, 11/9/1997] Most of the funding for it has come from a grant from the Department of Defense. [New York Daily News, 11/10/1997; New York Times, 11/10/1997] The exercise is intended to be a model for cities throughout the US. [Fire Engineering, 3/1998]
Entity Tags: US Department of Transportation, Jerome Hauer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Defense, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Emergency Management, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Operation ICE, New York City Fire Department, American Red Cross, Office of Chief Medical Examiner, New York City Police Department
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Employees of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the World Trade Center, and the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) take part in training exercises that simulate major fires on upper floors of the WTC. [Newsday, 11/12/2001; 9/11 Commission, 11/3/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ]
On June 6, 1999, members of the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) and the FDNY participate in an exercise that simulates a five-alarm, full-floor fire on the 92nd floor of the WTC’s South Tower. The exercise, held early on a Sunday morning, makes use of smoke machines, lighting, and mannequins, to create a realistic environment for participants. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ]
In September 2000, the Port Authority and the FDNY conduct a similar exercise on the empty 93rd floor of one of the Twin Towers (the particular tower is unstated). Like the June 1999 exercise, it is held on a Sunday morning, simulates a five-alarm fire, and uses smoke machines to make it more realistic. Alan Reiss, the director of the Port Authority’s World Trade Department, will later recall: “It was a major full-floor high-rise fire. It was a full-scale fire simulation.” Five FDNY engine companies take part. The exercise is videotaped and elevators are unavailable while it is taking place. [Newsday, 11/12/2001]
At some point in the summer of 2001, the Port Authority and 30 FDNY companies train for a five-alarm fire on the 90th floor of the South Tower. Fire safety directors working for OCS Security, which holds the fire safety contract for the WTC, also take part in the exercise. [9/11 Commission, 11/3/2003]
The PAPD holds “annual tabletop drills involving both police and the civilian management at the World Trade Center,” to exercise the emergency response plans for the WTC, according to Reiss. These drills are developed by PAPD specialists, Reiss will say, and other agencies besides the Port Authority—such as the FDNY—can participate. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ] However, despite being recommended in 1993 to train for the event of a plane hitting the WTC (see (March 29, 1993)), the Port Authority conducts no exercises simulating that scenario in the subsequent eight years before 9/11. [Newsday, 11/12/2001] Whether the Port Authority held exercises simulating large fires on the upper floors of the WTC before 1999 is unclear.
New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which is located in World Trade Center Building 7, organizes a bio-terrorism drill where militant extremists attack the city with bubonic plague and Manhattan is quarantined. The “tabletop exercise” is called RED Ex—meaning “Recognition, Evaluation, and Decision-Making Exercise”
—and involves about seventy different entities, agencies, and locales from the New York area. Federal legislation adopted in 1997 requires federal, state, and local authorities to conduct regular exercises as part of the Domestic Preparedness Program (DPP). The US Defense Department chose New York City as the venue for RED Ex due to its size, prominence, and level of emergency preparedness. Various high-level officials take part, including Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, OEM Director Richard Sheirer, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, and Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. Agencies and organizations that participate include New York City Fire Department, New York City Police Department, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The exercise is supposedly so intense that, according to one participant, “five minutes into that drill, everybody forgot it was a drill.”
[New York City Government, 5/11/2001; New York City Government, 9/5/2001, pp. 74 ; New York Sun, 12/20/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004] According to OEM Director Richard Sheirer, “Operation RED Ex provided a proving ground and a great readiness training exercise for the many challenges the city routinely faces, such as weather events, heat emergencies, building collapses, fires, and public safety and health issues.”
[New York City Government, 5/11/2001] In his prepared testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Bernard Kerik later states: “The City, through its OEM, had coordinated plans for many types of emergencies; and those plans were tested frequently.” The types of emergencies they prepared for, he states, included “building collapses” and “plane crashes.”
[9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ] Considering Richard Sheirer’s comments, RED Ex appears to be one example where the city tests for building collapses. Details about training for airplanes crashing into New York City remain unknown. The second part of this exercise, called Tripod, is scheduled to take place in New York on September 12, 2001, but is cancelled due to the 9/11 attacks.
Chief Ray Downey of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) firmly believes that a major terrorist attack in the United States is imminent. According to a book written by his nephew, in the months before 9/11, Downey has on his desk “all the reports he can get his hands on about the threat of terrorism.” This is because he “has become convinced that a major terrorist attack is coming and that very few people in New York, or the United States, are prepared for this eventuality.” [Downey, 2004, pp. 218-219]
Fire Chief Warns, 'We're Gonna Get Hit Bad' - Downey was in charge of rescue operations following the terrorist bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996. [New York Times, 11/22/2001; Fire Engineering, 3/2002] Having witnessed the aftermath of these attacks, he now feels “certain that a big one [is] coming next.” Whenever a conversation turns to the subject of terrorism, he warns, “We’re gonna get hit bad.” Furthermore, the 1993 WTC bombing demonstrated to him that Islamic terrorists see New York as their prime target. Downey has discussed his concerns with his men and outlined various scenarios to them. He thinks the “big one” is most likely going to be an attack involving a chemical or dirty bomb in an urban environment. [Downey, 2004, pp. 224]
Chief Has Planned the Fire Department's Response to Terrorism - Downey is in charge of the FDNY’s renowned Special Operations Command (SOC). [New York Post, 12/16/2001; Fire Engineering, 3/2002] The SOC is an elite group of firefighters who respond to unique fire and emergency situations, and its members are trained to deal with catastrophes. [New York Daily News, 10/21/2001; Long Island Herald, 7/13/2007; Smithsonian, 8/31/2013] As head of the unit, Downey is responsible for planning the FDNY’s response to terrorist attacks. He has “worked out various scenarios for terrorist attacks—who would be the first, second, and third of his companies on scene; what would each unit do,” according to the book by his nephew. He has “studied floor plans of major landmarks, looked at aerial views of [New York], thought about traffic routes, bridges, and tunnels.” [Downey, 2004, pp. 222-223]
Chief Serves on a Government Commission on Terrorism - Downey is also a member of the Gilmore Commission, an advisory panel established in 1999 to assess America’s capabilities for responding to domestic terrorist incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. [New York Times, 11/22/2001; Fire Engineering, 3/2002] And in his spare time, he has traveled around the country, “preaching the need to prepare for terrorism,” according to Hal Bruno, chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. [Newsday, 9/13/2001]
Mayor Rudy Giuliani updates a directive that is intended to eliminate conflict between agencies when they respond to an emergency, such as a terrorist attack, in New York. [City of New York, 7/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 284-285] Since at least the late 1970s, New York’s mayors have recognized that the tense relations between the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the New York Fire Department (FDNY) are a potentially serious problem, and have tried, unsuccessfully, to rectify the situation. [Governing, 9/2005] In a new attempt to resolve the problem, Giuliani updates a directive titled “Direction and Control of Emergencies in the City of New York.” This document states that its purpose is to eliminate “potential conflict among responding agencies which may have areas of overlapping expertise and responsibility.”
Specified Agency Would Be the 'Incident Commander' for an Emergency - To achieve this, the directive designates which agency would serve as the “incident commander” for different types of emergencies. The incident commander would be “responsible for the management of the city’s response to the emergency.” Meanwhile, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which Giuliani created in 1996 (see 1996), would “coordinate the participation of all city agencies in resolving the event,” and “assist the incident commander in his/her efforts in the development and implementation of the strategy for resolving the event.”
Fire or Police Department Would Be in Command for a Terrorist Attack - The document states that in the event of an “air crash” or a “structural collapse,” the FDNY would be the incident commander. In the event of a terrorist attack, the incident commander would be either the NYPD or the FDNY, depending on the type of terrorist attack that occurs (for example, whether it is an attack involving weapons of mass destruction or one in which just conventional weapons are used). However, the directive notes, the nature of terrorist attacks “is such that the incident command will shift as the event evolves.” Therefore, it continues, “Any conflicts regarding the issue of command at these incidents will be resolved by OEM.” [City of New York, 7/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 284-285]
Directive Is Followed 'to Some Degree' on September 11 - The directive will be followed with limited success when the terrorist attacks occur on September 11. “To some degree, the mayor’s directive for incident command was followed on 9/11,” the 9/11 Commission Report will state. The report will continue, “It was clear that the lead response agency was the FDNY and that the other responding local, federal, bistate, and state agencies acted in a supporting role.” The report will note, however, that “the response operations lacked the kind of integrated communications and unified command contemplated in the directive.” “These problems existed both within and among individual responding agencies,” it will add. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 319]
Members of the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force. [Source: Daniel Wetzel / US Marine Corps]Members of the US Marine Corps’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) participate in a major training exercise with the New York Fire Department (FDNY) sometime this month. During the exercise, the FDNY’s response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993) is discussed, according to Colonel Thomas Hammes, commanding officer of the CBIRF. Further details of the exercise are unstated. The CBIRF was established by the Marine Corps in 1996 in order to support first responders during attacks involving chemical or biological weapons. [Lerner and Lerner, 2003, pp. 176; Hammes, 2004, pp. xii] It has around 370 members and is capable of deploying rapidly to anywhere in the world if there is an attack involving weapons of mass destruction or if a chemical, biological, or nuclear agent is released. [Washington Post, 1/8/2000; US Marine Corps, 7/21/2000] The unit has a history with the FDNY going back to when it was founded in 1996. FDNY Deputy Chief Ray Downey in fact helped develop its original training. [US Marine Corps, 4/23/2010] It moved from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, Maryland, in the summer of 2000. [US Department of Defense, 7/2001, pp. 125 ] The move, it was reported at the time, would “place CBIRF closer to Washington, DC, and New York City,” thereby “reducing response time to crucial national locations.” [US Marine Corps, 7/21/2000] On September 11, the CBIRF’s immediate response force will prepare to respond to the attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, if needed. The unit will not be deployed, though, and will instead be held in reserve in case there is a weapons of mass destruction attack in the Washington area. [Hammes, 2004, pp. xii-xiii]
Steve Kanarian. [Source: Steve Kanarian]The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Bureau of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) holds a training exercise at New York’s La Guardia Airport, based around the scenario of a jet aircraft carrying about 150 passengers crashing at the end of the runway. [Academic Emergency Medicine, 3/2002; Kanarian, 2011, pp. 23] The exercise, called Operation Low Key, is an annual drill, which assesses the emergency preparedness response to aviation accidents at La Guardia Airport. [Kanarian, 2011, pp. 18]
Exercise Is Intended as Preparation for a Mass Casualty Incident - Before the exercise begins, its participants gather in a briefing room at the airport where Robert McCracken, chief of EMS operations, tells them the exercise is “an important drill for preparation for an aviation accident or a MCI [mass casualty incident].” The exercise commences when an announcement is made, informing participants that a “10-40”—a confirmed plane crash—has been reported at the airport. Participants in their emergency vehicles are then escorted across the runway by members of the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD). [Kanarian, 2011, pp. 21-23] (La Guardia Airport is run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. [Reuters, 7/27/2015] )
Exercise Is Regarded as 'a Job Well Done' - The participants arrive at the scene of the simulated crash where there is a plane, and mock casualties are strewn around the runway. To the left, a fire is burning, simulating a burning aircraft. The firefighters and EMS personnel then carry out their response to the mock disaster as if they were responding to a real incident. At the end of the exercise, they gather in the PAPD building at the airport and discuss the day’s events. They are “complimented on a job well done,” according to Steve Kanarian, an FDNY paramedic who participates in the exercise. [Kanarian, 2011, pp. 23-25] La Guardia Airport is eight miles from midtown Manhattan in the borough of Queens, New York. [Bloomberg, 7/27/2015; Reuters, 7/27/2015] Another exercise is being held there today by the Red Cross, which is based around the scenario of a terrorist attack with a biological weapon (see September 8, 2001). [Philanthropy News Digest, 12/7/2001] Three days later, on September 11, FDNY EMS personnel will receive a real report of a “10-40” and subsequently respond to the crashes at the World Trade Center. [Fire Engineering, 9/2002; JEMS, 9/7/2011]
John Odermatt. [Source: Queens Gazette]New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) activates its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center Building 7. The OEM is responsible for managing the city’s response to major incidents, including terrorist attacks. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 283-284, 293] Its personnel arrived at WTC 7, where it has offices, early this morning to prepare for Tripod, a major biological terrorism training exercise scheduled for September 12 (see September 12, 2001). [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 15 ]
Staffer Is Told to Open the Operations Center - OEM Commissioner John Odermatt and Richard Bylicki, a police sergeant assigned to the OEM, heard the explosion when Flight 11 crashed into the WTC, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). As they look out of the window at the burning North Tower, Odermatt debriefs Bylicki and instructs him to open the EOC for a fully staffed operation. Bylicki therefore sets about activating the operations center. [Bylicki, 6/19/2003]
Staffers Call Agencies and Tell Them to Send Their Representatives - EOC personnel start contacting agencies, including the New York Fire and Police Departments and the Department of Health, and instruct them to send their designated representatives to the center. They also call the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which they ask to send at least five federal urban search and rescue teams. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 293] Meanwhile, Bylicki helps the OEM’s Watch Command handle an “enormous influx” of phone calls, many of which are from senior city officials. [Bylicki, 6/19/2003]
Activation Proceeds without Any Problems - EOC personnel initially struggle to make sense of what has happened at the Twin Towers. [Wachtendorf, 2004, pp. 77] However, the activation apparently proceeds without any problems. Firefighter Timothy Brown, a supervisor at the OEM, is instructed by Calvin Drayton, a deputy director with the OEM, to go up to the 23rd floor of WTC 7 and make sure that personnel are getting the EOC up and running, and the Watch Command is being properly supervised. He goes up to the 23rd floor and first checks the Watch Command. He sees that its supervisor, Mike Lee, has things under control. Then, in the EOC, he sees Michael Berkowitz, a supervisor with the OEM, powering up all the computers and television screens necessary to handle the emergency, and beginning to notify the dozens of agencies that need to send representatives to the center. Berkowitz tells Brown he has the manpower he needs to get the center up and running. “I was very comfortable that OEM was beginning to do what we do in a major emergency,” Brown will later recall. Activating the EOC is something OEM personnel have “drilled for and drilled for and drilled for… and so we were very good at it,” he will comment. [City of New York, 1/15/2002; Project Rebirth, 6/30/2002 ; Firehouse, 1/31/2003]
Center Is Designed for Managing a Crisis - The EOC, which opened in 1999 (see June 8, 1999), is a state-of-the-art facility designed to operate as a stand-alone center from which the city government can operate during a crisis. [City of New York, 2/18/2001] It is one of the most sophisticated facilities of its type in the world. It includes a communications suite, a conference room, a press briefing room, and a large number of staff offices, and has numerous computer-equipped workstations. [Disasters, 3/2003 ] It has enough seating for 68 agencies to operate during an emergency. [City of New York, 2/18/2001] However, it will be evacuated at 9:30 a.m. due to reports of further unaccounted-for planes, according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] Other accounts will indicate that it may be evacuated at an earlier time, possibly even before the second crash at the WTC occurs (see (Soon After 8:46 a.m.-9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly Before 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Entity Tags: Mike Lee, Federal Emergency Management Agency, John Odermatt, Michael Berkowitz, Calvin Drayton, US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Emergency Management, New York City Fire Department, New York State Emergency Management Office, Timothy Brown, Richard Bylicki, New York City Police Department
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Fire department commanders in the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center instruct an officer with the Port Authority Police Department and building personnel in the North Tower to evacuate the South Tower of the WTC. They do this not because of concern about a plane hitting the South Tower, but because, in their judgment, “the impact of the plane into the North Tower made the entire complex unsafe,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. The exact time at which the fire chiefs give the instruction is unclear; the 9/11 Commission Report will only state that they have given it “by approximately 8:57.” However, according to the 9/11 Commission, “there is no evidence that this advice was communicated effectively to the building personnel in the South Tower.” [9/11 Commission, 4/19/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 287, 290] All the same, at 9:02 a.m., an announcement will be made over the public address system in the South Tower, telling workers that they can begin an orderly evacuation of the building if conditions warrant it (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 289]
In the lobby of the north WTC tower, just after the South Tower is hit, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen speaks briefly to Fire Chief Ray Downey. According to Von Essen, Downey—who is a highly respected expert on building collapses—says to him, “You know, these buildings can collapse.” Von Essen later recalls, “He just said it in passing, not that these buildings will collapse in 40 minutes and we have to get everybody out of here, or not that they’ll collapse by tomorrow, or not that they necessarily will collapse at all. Just that they can collapse.” [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 229; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004] But other firefighters do not appear to have shared this concern. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Fire Department command officers who are planning for operations inside the Twin Towers expect that there will “be localized collapse conditions on the damaged fire floors,” but do “not expect that there [will] be any massive collapse conditions or complete building collapse.” At the end of its three-year investigation of the WTC collapses, NIST will report, “No one interviewed indicated that they thought that the buildings would completely collapse.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 72 and 75-76] In fact, Deputy Fire Commissioner Lynn Tierney will meet up with Downey and others—including Von Essen—slightly later, on the south lawn of the WTC complex, where a new command center is set up. At that time, according to Tierney, Downey will only be concerned that the 360-foot antenna atop the North Tower will fall, and “No one ever thought the towers were going to come down.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2006] However, shortly before the first tower comes down, EMT Richard Zarrillo will be asked to relay a message to some senior firefighters that the mayor’s Office of Emergency Management “says the buildings are going to collapse” (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And later in the day, Mayor Giuliani will recount that around the same time, he had been told “that the World Trade Center was going to collapse” (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will state, “The best estimate of one senior [fire] chief, provided to the chief of the department sometime between 9:25 and 9:45, was that there might be a danger of collapse [of the South Tower] in a few hours, and therefore units probably should not ascend above floors in the sixties.” The Commission does not state, however, whether this fire chief was referring to a total building collapse or just a localized collapse. [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] Ray Downey is killed when the second tower collapses at 10:28 a.m. [New York Times, 9/9/2005]
Jay Kopstein. [Source: Jay Kopstein]Richard Ohlsen, an employee at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region II office in Lower Manhattan, goes to the headquarters of the New York Police Department (NYPD), but is initially denied entry into the building and, once inside, experiences various difficulties as he tries to respond to the terrorist attacks. Following the second crash at the World Trade Center, the FEMA office was unable to communicate with Office of Emergency Management personnel in WTC Building 7 and so Ohlsen was told to go to WTC 7 to act as a liaison there (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). As he was on his way out, though, the South Tower of the WTC collapsed (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FEMA Employee Is Denied Entry into the Police Headquarters - Consequently, instead of going to the WTC site, Ohlsen heads to the command center at NYPD headquarters, at One Police Plaza. When he arrives at NYPD headquarters, however, officers refuse to let him in because they do not recognize his FEMA identification as being official. Fortunately, Jay Kopstein, an inspector with the NYPD who happens to be passing by, recognizes him and takes him up to the command center.
Employee Lacks Priority Access to the Phone Network - Ohlsen’s problems continue, however, after he arrives there. Ohlsen does not have with him a special GETS (Government Emergency Telecommunications Service) phone card, which gives government and emergency workers priority to make phone calls during a crisis. Consequently, when he wants to reach FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC, he has to contact it through the normal collect call procedures, even though this is a national emergency. And when he does get through, he is told that responsibility for dealing with the attacks in New York has been transferred to FEMA’s Region I office in Massachusetts, as part of the agency’s standard continuity of operations procedures, and so all requests are meant to go through there.
Officials Refuse to Open an Equipment Cache - Ohlsen also runs into difficulty when he asks for an equipment cache that contains personal protective gear and search and rescue equipment for New York City’s urban search and rescue team to be opened. He is incredulous when, in light of the current situation, officials with the New York City Fire Department, which maintains the cache, refuse his request, supposedly because no one from the federal government has authorized the use of the equipment. Ohlsen apparently persists and eventually gets the cache opened, since he will later describe this setback as “the first problem he was able to resolve” after arriving at the command center. [9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 ; Graff, 2017, pp. 343-344]
The New York Fire Department (FDNY) assigns a chief officer to take charge of operations at WTC Building 7. The chief is initially ordered to put out the fires there. It is determined around this time that there are fires on floors 6-8, 17, 21 and 30. However, there are problems with the water supply: There is no water coming out of the hydrant system nearby, and an FDNY chief officer who has been in WTC 7 says he opened a standpipe on the 4th floor of one stairway, but found no water in the standpipe system. This should not be a problem though, as two or three FDNY fireboats have been tied up on the Hudson shore, specifically to provide water to the site, and lines are already being stretched up to the WTC area. However, as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will later report, “According to the FDNY first-person interviews, water was never an issue at WTC 7 since firefighting was never started in the building. When the Chief Officer in charge of WTC 7 got to Barclay Street and West Broadway, numerous firefighters and officers were coming out of WTC 7. These firefighters indicated that several blocks needed to be cleared around WTC 7 because they thought that the building was going to collapse.” [Firehouse (.com), 9/17/2001; Time Out New York, 9/27/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 110-111] However, one fire captain later claims to have seen numerous firefighters trying to extinguish fires in WTC 7 at some unspecified time after the North Tower collapsed, until they were instructed to stop doing so (see After 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001).
The chief fire officer who has been assigned to take charge of operations at WTC Building 7 meets with his command officer, to discuss the condition of this building and the fire department’s capabilities for controlling the fires in it. A deputy fire chief who has just been in WTC 7, inspecting up to its 7th or 8th floor, reports that there was a lot of fire inside and the stairway was filling with smoke. The fire chiefs discuss the situation and identify the following conditions:
WTC 7 has suffered damage caused by falling debris from the Twin Towers, and they are uncertain about its structural stability.
There are large fires on at least six floors.
They do not have enough equipment available for conducting operations in the building, such as hoses, standpipe kits, and handie-talkies.
There is no water immediately available for fighting the fires. (However, this concern is apparently contradicted by reports that two or three fireboats are moored nearby, specifically to provide water-pumping capacity for the WTC site.)
Therefore, at around 2:30 p.m., fire officers decide to completely abandon WTC 7 and a final order is given to evacuate the site. Firefighters and other emergency workers will be withdrawn from the surrounding area (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and Building 7 collapses later in the afternoon (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Firehouse (.com), 9/17/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 110-111]
Fred Simms. [Source: Con Edison]After the fire department informs it that Building 7 of the World Trade Center could collapse, New York power company Con Edison shuts off power to this building. [9/11 Commission, 2/26/2004 ] Con Edison has a major electrical substation on the first and second floors of WTC 7. [New York Times, 9/11/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 5] Its representatives who had been in WTC 7 did not think that the building would come down. But, at 4:15 p.m., Con Edison emergency field manager Fred Simms speaks to the New York Fire Department and then tells his company’s headquarters that the fire department thinks WTC 7 will collapse. The fire department then asks Con Edison to shut down the power to WTC 7, which it does. [City of New York, 6/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/26/2004 ] Electric power to Con Edison’s lower Manhattan substation at WTC 7 is shut off at 4:33 p.m. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 303] Also around this time, people are evacuated from the area around WTC 7, due to concerns that the building could collapse (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Kansas City Star, 3/28/2004] WTC 7, a 47-story tower located just to the north of the main WTC complex, will come down at 5:20 p.m. (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. xxxv] The Con Edison electrical substation below it will be destroyed in this collapse. [New York Times, 9/11/2002]
A poster to help law enforcement officers locate the missing ‘black boxes’ in the WTC debris. [Source: FBI / Smithsonian Institution]Three of the four black boxes from Flight 11 and Flight 175 are found this month, according to two men who work extensively in the wreckage of the World Trade Center, but the public is not told. New York City firefighter Nicholas DeMasi will mention the discovery of the black boxes in a book published in 2003. He will claim to have driven federal agents on an all-terrain vehicle during their search and state that they found three of the four missing black boxes. The Philadelphia Daily News will report on the story in 2004 when another recovery worker, volunteer Mike Bellone, backs up DeMasi’s account and claims to have seen one of the black boxes. Spokesmen for the FBI and the New York City Fire Department will deny the claims of these two workers. [Swanson, 2003, pp. 108; Philadelphia Daily News, 10/28/2004] But in 2005, CounterPunch will report: “A source at the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that has the task of deciphering the data from the black boxes retrieved from crash sites—including those that are being handled as crimes and fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI—says the boxes were in fact recovered and were analyzed by the NTSB. ‘Off the record, we had the boxes,’ the source says. ‘You’d have to get the official word from the FBI as to where they are, but we worked on them here.’” An NTSB spokesperson will deny that the FBI ever gave the NTSB the black boxes. [CounterPunch, 12/19/2005] On September 18, it was reported that investigators had detected a signal from one of the black boxes in the debris at Ground Zero (see September 18, 2001). [New York State Emergency Management Office, 9/18/2001 ] But the 9/11 Commission Report will state that the black boxes from Flight 11 and Flight 175 “were not found.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456]
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani angers firefighters when he decides to severely reduce the number of them that can search for remains at Ground Zero. Until now, up to 300 firefighters at a time have been involved in the search and recovery effort. Giuliani’s decision will mean no more than 25 at a time can do so in future. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) later alleges that, also at this time, Giuliani makes “a conscious decision to institute a ‘scoop-and-dump’ operation to expedite the clean-up of Ground Zero in lieu of the more time-consuming, but respectful, process of removing debris piece by piece in hope of uncovering more remains.” So far, the bodies or remains of 101 firefighters have been recovered, out of the 343 who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. According to the IAFF, the mayor refuses to even meet with local union presidents about the decision. Due to the ensuing public outcry, Giuliani will modify his policy and allow firefighters back on the pile at Ground Zero. The remains of another 113 firefighters will subsequently be found. The IAFF later alleges that “the mayor’s switch to a scoop-and-dump coincided with the final removal of tens of millions of dollars of gold, silver and other assets of the Bank of Nova Scotia that were buried beneath what was once the towers” (see (Mid-October-mid November 2001)). “Once the money was out, Giuliani sided with the developers that opposed a lengthy recovery effort, and ordered the scoop-and-dump operation so they could proceed with redevelopment.” [Firefighting News (.com), 3/8/2007; Bloomberg, 3/9/2007; Associated Press, 3/10/2007] IAFF President Harold Schaitberger later says, “in my opinion, it was more important for him [to] find the gold than it was to continue to find and recover remains.” [MSNBC, 7/12/2007]
A firefighter trade magazine with ties to the New York Fire Department calls the investigation into the collapse of the WTC a “half-baked farce.” The article points out that the probe has not looked at all aspects of the disaster and has had limited access to documents and other evidence. “The destruction and removal of evidence must stop immediately.” The writer, Bill Manning, states, “I have combed through our national standard for fire investigation, NFPA 921, but nowhere in it does one find an exemption allowing the destruction of evidence for buildings over 10 stories tall.” He concludes that a growing number of fire protection engineers have theorized that “the structural damage from the planes and the explosive ignition of jet fuel in themselves were not enough to bring down the towers.” Yet, “[a]s things now stand and if they continue in such fashion, the investigation into the World Trade Center fire and collapse will amount to paper- and computer-generated hypotheticals.” [Fire Engineering, 1/2002; New York Daily News, 1/4/2002]
The New York City government decides that the audio and written records of the Fire Department’s actions on 9/11 should never be released to the general public. The New York Times has been trying to get copies of the materials, which include firsthand accounts given to Fire Department officials by scores of firefighters and chiefs. The city claims the firefighters were told their accounts would be kept confidential, but senior fire officials say they were never told that their remarks would be kept confidential. [New York Times, 7/23/2002] The records will be released in 2005 after a legal battle (see August 12, 2005).
This picture of the hole created in the WTC by Flight 11 supports recordings indicating that fires weren’t burning out of control. In the close-up insert at the top left, note the person standing at the edge of the hole.
[Source: unknown]A “lost tape” of radio messages from firefighters inside the WTC on 9/11 is made public. Supposedly, “city fire officials simply delayed listening” to this tape until after the official report on the fire department’s response to the attacks was published, and they still refuse to allow any officials to discuss the contents. The tape reveals that two firefighters were able to reach the crash site on the 78th floor of the South Tower. While there, “Chief Palmer could see only two pockets of fire, and called for a pair of engine companies to fight them.”
[New York Times, 8/4/2002; Guardian, 8/5/2002]
The City of New York releases a large volume of records from 9/11. These include over 12,000 pages of oral histories—testimonies from 503 firefighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians involved in the 9/11 emergency response—and about 15 hours of radio communications between dispatchers and firefighters. The oral histories were gathered in informal interviews by the New York City Fire Department, beginning in October 2001. This was on the order of then Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, who said he wanted to preserve the accounts before individual memories faded. However, these histories were never subsequently used for any official purpose. [New York Times, 8/12/2005; BBC, 8/13/2005; Guardian, 8/13/2005; Newsday, 8/13/2005] The New York Times, under the freedom of information law, originally sought the records in February 2002. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration refused the request, claiming their release would jeopardize the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, and violate firefighters’ privacy (see July 23, 2002). The newspaper, joined by some 9/11 victims’ relatives, consequently sued the city, and in March 2005 the state’s highest court ruled that the city had to release the oral histories and recordings, but could edit out potentially painful and embarrassing portions. The city had also initially refused investigators from the 9/11 Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) access to the records, but relented following threats of legal action. [Associated Press, 8/12/2005; New York Times, 8/12/2005; Guardian, 8/13/2005] Analyzing the oral histories, the New York Times strongly criticizes the lack of information that firefighters received on 9/11: “[F]irefighters in the [north WTC tower] said they were ‘clueless’ and knew ‘absolutely nothing’ about the reality of the gathering crisis.” It continues: “Of 58 firefighters who escaped the [North Tower] and gave oral histories, only four said they knew the South Tower had already fallen. Just three said they had heard radio warnings that the North Tower was also in danger of collapse. And some who had heard orders to evacuate debated whether they were meant for civilians or firefighters.” [New York Times, 9/9/2005]
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