From the April 2002 Firehouse Magazine
Battalion Chief John Norman Special Operations Command - 22 years
Firehouse: Please describe how you became involved.
Norman: I was home in bed and the battalion called and said, I know you’re on vacation, but there’s a total recall because of what happened to the Trade Center. I’m still sound asleep. I said, what happened to the Trade Center? He says you don’t know? He says turn on the TV and he hung up. He had a million calls to make. I turned on the TV just in time to catch Tower 1 falling, so I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs. I had all my FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) gear packed, ready for a FEMA deployment, and I had a second set of bunker gear in my trunk. I just jumped in the car and I headed right to the city, heading for the Trade Center, but I stopped in Brooklyn, stopped at 175 Truck and 332 Engine’s quarters, to see whether they had any word on the recall, what mustering sites there were or anything. They had commandeered a bus and loaded it up with all the spare Scott bottles they had in quarters, because they’re a depot, and as many hand tools as they could find. About 25 of us went from there, drove to the 15th Division mustering site at 283’s quarters. I checked in with the deputy chief there, Seamus McNella I believe was working. They had a bus that was leaving for the Trade Center right at that point, so I hopped on it and we drove to the Manhattan Bridge. (Deputy Chief) Dave Corcoran was in charge of maintaining control of the units, finding out what units he had available, so we switched over from the bus. There was a convoy of apparatus about to go over to Manhattan. (Lieutenant of Rescue 1) Mike Pena and I hooked up there with Ray Graywin, Al Schwartz from 4 Truck and we all piled onto the back, I think it was 264 Engine’s rig, and headed over the bridge and came in on the Broadway side of City Hall Park. Deputy Chief Tommy Haring had a command post set up at Broadway and I think it was Dey Street, so we got a radio off of one of the trucks that had arrived and we sent the team. We could hear Freddy La Femmina calling for assistance. He had trapped firefighters in, I believe it was the north tower. We sent Mike and put a SOC (Special Operations Command) team together. Squad 288’s rig was right there. I went over and took everything we could get that might be of value in the technical operation off of 288’s rig and headed over. I had my digital camera with me. I took some pictures as I was going in and going down Dey. All I could see was 5 World Trade Center on fire. That was a building that I had worked in. I had done a lot of the sprinkler work there when it was going up and I’m looking at this building. You know, it’s not supposed to be like this. There were some companies stretching lines on Vesey Street, so I went over there to see if they needed a hand. They were saying no, no, the guys around on the West Street side really need the help. I started to go down Vesey toward West, but there was a lot of debris blocking the way and they were telling me no, you don’t want to go down there – they’re worried about that building collapsing. I looked at 7 World Trade Center. There was smoke showing, but not a lot and I’m saying that isn’t going to fall. So I went up Church Street two more blocks and went across to West and went right down behind 7 and got a good look at three sides. Again, there were a lot of fires on the ground, some crushed mail trucks, some burned-up engines. It was a scene out of a war zone. I continued around to West and Vesey and reported into the command post. They were very concerned about fire extending into the telephone company building. They gave me a couple of companies and said get into the telephone company building and check on extension there. We had extension on the first and second floors, so we took some standpipe lines, put them in operation and knocked that down. From there, we looked out at 7 World Trade Center again. You could see smoke, but no visible fire, and some damage to the south face. You couldn’t really see from where we were on the west face of the building, but at the edge of the south face you could see that it was very heavily damaged.
Firehouse: Could you see if there was a lot of debris in the street after the building came down?
Norman: Yes, that’s why we couldn’t walk down Vesey. But I never expected it to fall the way it did as quickly as it did, 7. But we took some defensive positions, actually tied the lines off and pulled the companies back into the building. I didn’t feel too bad once we got back away from the perimeter just because that’s a real, real heavy, old-style building. We knocked down any fire and checked for extension in the phone company building. We tied the lines off and left them flowing out into the street onto the debris piles that were burning out in the street there between the phone company and 7. I came back outside and I forget who the IC (incident commander) was at that command post, but he says we’re getting a lot of reports of firemen still trapped. They think they know the location of the original command post and why don’t you get over there and see if you can get a hand, organize something over that way. OK, where is it? And he says it’s on the other side of that bridge right there. You had the north pedestrian bridge that was blocking the entire access. We had to go around, behind and through 3 World Financial Center and come back out onto West Street at Liberty. And again, an absolutely incredible amount of devastation. With the familiarity I had with the whole building, it was absolutely astounding. I really couldn’t see how bad things were up to that point because of the smoke condition. I was still expecting to see large sections of buildings standing and everything. Once I got out onto West and Liberty and see that there’s nothing left, the whole steel of that building is out covering the block, it’s just incredible. Now we’re still worried about 7. We have guys trying to make their way up into the pile, and they’re telling us that 7 is going to fall down – and that was one of the directions from the command post, to make sure we clear the collapse zone from 7 and this is a 600-foot-tall building, so we had to clear a 600-foot radius from that building. Guys are looking at me when I’m telling them to move away, we’re over by the north tower and we got to get out of here. They said what building you talking about? I said that building and they thought the phone company because through the smoke you couldn’t see what I’m talking about. They said that building isn’t going anywhere. I said no, not that building, the one next to it, the big one. It was tough getting them to understand what we’re talking about because until you had done either a couple of 360s around this whole site or if you got an aerial view somehow, you really couldn’t appreciate the scope of the damage. You come in and you see one thing and say oh, this is a big problem. Like 90 West Street. 90 West Street was burning and guys would say we got this big problem over here. 90 West Street would have been a big problem, would have probably been a borough call by itself during normal times. We had fire on South End Avenue in one of the apartment houses in Battery Park City. I’m looking at that and I’m saying that’s a third alarm in normal times and there were two engine companies dedicated to it. There was fire on the third and fourth floors. I guess it probably was debris got into the third floor and auto-exposed to the fourth with a good fire there. There was a fire up on the roof of 2 World Financial Center, again from debris landing on it. All of which would have been something to talk about normally. But now we get out there and we could crawl through this mass of steel. There were window openings in the steel – what used to be the windows of the exterior walls. You’d look down every step and say that’s an aerial ladder down there dropped down into the void. Guys are searching in all those areas. There’s got to be people here, they’ve got to be here. Where are the engine chauffeurs as we come across rigs? Some of the engines you could get in underneath and some of them were just flat right to the ground, pancaked to the ground, so that even if the engine chauffeur dove under the rig, there was no void space. The guys are saying that we’ve got to have a lot of people under here. Then, when they found (Chief of Department) Pete Ganci’s body and (First Deputy Commissioner) Bill Feehan’s body, we said there’s the command post, everybody else has to be right here too. But to lift that stuff – these were the massive, three-finger sections of steel. They weigh 25 tons. There was just nothing we were doing to lift them at that point. That’s when we realized we really, really needed heavy equipment in there, but with the access being blocked, that became a real major problem. I went back to the command post, reported what I saw and we tried to organize a plan. That’s where I said you’ve got to get this north footbridge cleared out of the way. We’ve got to be able to get some big cranes in to start lifting that heavy steel. They were bringing some cranes in. They had some mobile hydraulic cranes by nightfall and started working from the south end, but they were really very small capacity and they were 600 feet away from the north tower. That’s when they gave me the job of getting that north footbridge out of the way. I worked on that all night the first night. By 10 o’clock in the morning, we had started to get some heavy equipment in. We got the excavators in, the grapplers, and started to make some headway on it. We peeled off all the facing. This is a tremendous bridge, it’s a 300-foot-long bridge. It was a steel box, almost a truss, like a space frame. We started to make some headway through that and by about 1 o’clock that afternoon, I was just shot though. I said I’ve got the plan organized, we’re getting the equipment in to do it and this is where we’ve just got to keep going. I left and went up to Rescue 1’s quarters that afternoon. By that point, a lot of the families were there – Dennis Mojica’s fiancee, Maria. Just trying to deal with them was very hard. Mike Geidel was there with his father, Paulie. And naturally, Paul having been a lieutenant in Rescue 1, we’re trying to reassure him that, yeah, there are a lot of areas that we haven’t gotten to yet. We haven’t given up hope. We’re going to get him. It was tough trying to explain that. I went upstairs and laid down for about an hour and a half. I couldn’t sleep. I picked up some dry clothes. I stole some clothes from Mike Pena, a new T-shirt and underwear, and went back down. Worked on the north bridge that second night. First, Fellini sent me with the guys from Harlem, 35 Engine and 14 Truck, went down to check the subway, check the 1 and 9 subway entrance into the concourse to see whether there was a way to come into the collapse area from underneath. And we did. We got as far as up as we could until we were stopped by solid rubble. We came up into the concourse level from underneath. Again, areas that I was very familiar with, I worked in so I knew my way around. Checked right up to the PATH (train ) escalators. We got right up to the PATH escalators, started to go down them, got down to the first level and there were some signs that the area had already been searched. So we went back up.
Firehouse: What did they use to mark those? Did they use paint or markers?
Norman: No, just in the dust. I forget the company. I think it was a Brooklyn company like 204 Engine. “Engine 204 was here.” So I said let’s go back to see if we find areas that nobody’s gotten to yet. And we went down in the east side of the wall. On the east side of the concourse, it’s only three sublevels. We got down into all of them, but there were some real protected areas, but anybody that was in them got out. Nobody trapped or anything in any of those areas. A lot of places where people survived or could have survived without being pinned. The casualty differences were enormous. In a war event, usually you have one killed for every two or three or four wounded. Here, incredibly, it was almost the opposite. Look at our numbers – 343 dead and only a dozen serious injuries. If you were out of the collapse zone, you lived and were relatively unscathed. If you were in the collapse zone, there was no alternative.
Firehouse: If I could just go back, was there any mention of getting FEMA teams or did they already take care of that, or heavy equipment, the first time you saw some of these command chiefs?
Norman: There was heavy equipment already on the way. By the time I got to West and Vesey, it was already very clearly understood that there was nothing we were going to do until we got the big heavy construction equipment up in the way. I talked with Mike Pena early on while we were over at the Broadway side still when we first got into the scene and got a handle on the size of the devastation. One of the things that he took care of was making arrangements to get the New York City FEMA task force on the way. We got the FEMA task force organized from New York City, got the equipment coming. Mike actually handled most of those arrangements.
Firehouse: How much equipment is there and how big of a deal is it to get it to respond?
Norman: It’s a big deal. It’s basically three tractor-trailer loads worth of equipment. You got to get the tractors hooked up, they’re not kept up where you jump in and drive away.
Firehouse: Three tractor-trailer loads of the stuff coming out of FEMA, so it’s a big job at any time to get going?
Firehouse: When did the equipment arrive?
Norman: It wound up there that evening. I guess it was the next day before I got up to see it. Tommy Richardson, John La Femmina, Freddy La Femmina, the whole staff of them pitched in on their own because we weren’t activated as a federal task force. We just brought it there as a New York City resource. We didn’t have the full FEMA staff with an operations chief in charge of that unit and all that because all our people were performing those functions in their own jobs.
Firehouse: At some point in time, did somebody recommend how many FEMA teams were coming?
Norman: Yeah, real early. We said we’ve got to get at least four FEMA task forces on the way. When we got another look at it, went over and spoke with Chief Fellini at the time at the west command post, I said you’ve got to get OEM and get at least half a dozen of them started here. We got at least that many buildings that need to be done. Unfortunately, by the time the task forces arrived and deployed, there was no live victims to be recovered. The last five victims were recovered about 26 hours later, just after noon on the 12th, and most of task forces hadn’t even deployed. Pennsylvania was in at that point already and Massachusetts, and I believe Ohio. They began working, but there were no more live victims for them to recover.
Firehouse: The 26 hours later, was that the woman who was found in the void?
Firehouse: At the top of the pile?
Norman: Yeah. The Ohio task force was staged over in one of the residential buildings in Battery Park City and in the process of doing a primary search of that building. They did find a person, not unconscious, but unable to move, injured pretty badly, in one of residential buildings and that’s a block and a half away from the towers. At that point, we put many of the incoming task forces as well as our resources, teams of firefighters, police officers and the FEMA people into the job of performing a good primary and then a secondary search of all of those buildings. And remember, we’re talking a lot of big buildings, 50 stories, 300-by-300-foot buildings with no elevators and no power inside them. We told them take their time, if it takes you eight hours to do that, go ahead. You’ve got to walk up. We want everything searched. I want the roof searched for bodies that might have fallen onto the roof. I want every setback searched. I want every staircase, every office, every elevator searched. And they did it. They did a great job. It was a very long, difficult, hot-weather task to do, but it was necessary. Unfortunately, for the some of the FEMA task forces, that’s not really their primary mission. They’re geared for the heavy rescue, the heavy movement of large pieces of steel or concrete. There were very little pieces of concrete to deal with here. And the steel, the voids under it either were empty because people lived and got out or they were so heavily compacted that not even the equipment the FEMA task forces brought with them was going to be satisfactory. We needed the heavy equipment, those 25-ton grapplers, 1,000-ton cranes.
Firehouse: Those cranes and grapplers, the ones that are in there right now, they can pick up 25 tons?
Norman: The biggest ones, yes. By now, we’re getting into areas where we’re finding firefighters or civilians and they’re in relative voids and people are saying or they’re wondering whether anybody could have survived in those voids. In some cases it might have been possible that they weren’t physically crushed in some of these areas, but given the high carbon monoxide levels from the fires, I didn’t see them as survivable voids. It took us over three months to get to these areas using the heavy equipment at the most rapid pace possible and we’re still looking for remains or victims. Without the heavy equipment, we weren’t making any headway. We were taking I figured about two inches a day off of those piles at the rate we were going with hand equipment. We would be there for a hundred years at that rate. Just had to go to the heavy equipment. One of the things we talked about with the voids was how would we – when we were getting into the 16-day, 17-day range, we were looking to make the decision to go back – to go to a recovery from a rescue operation, a tremendous number of considerations. Certainly, the families were a big one, but then we had to deal with the injury or fatality possibilities to rescuers, and we had to honestly evaluate what the people’s chances of survival would be in that structure. At that point, it didn’t look good at all. We hadn’t uncovered any voids where we didn’t find crushed people. We didn’t have anybody lying there who looked like he could have survived if it weren’t for the fact that he was just stuck there so long. We went beyond the outside window of survivability. We know we’ve had people trapped in earthquakes for 14, maybe 15 days survive. But that was without the carbon monoxide coming up from underneath them constantly. So we went to 18 days just to be certain that we could say that there would be no way that anybody could have survived because we talked about it. We asked each other how we were going to handle our own consciences if we came across a pile of bodies and they had a diary, this is day one, we know you guys are coming to get us, day three, where are you, and, day five, we’re out of air, we can’t stand it anymore, we’re dying here, come get us, help us.
Firehouse: Let me just stop you at one point. Were there any transmissions besides those from Jay Jonas and other people? Jay told me that he had heard three or four Maydays right after it collapsed or in and around that time, a couple of hours. But did you hear any other Maydays or did anybody hear?
Norman: The Maydays that I heard were from rescuers calling for assistance because they had trapped firefighters. Like I said, Captain La Femmina from Squad 270 was working, I believe he was working with 43 Truck on rescuing members from 6 Truck. There were some other members around the perimeter, Al Fuentes. I didn’t hear Al’s Mayday. There were several Maydays for trapped members given by the rescuers, not the members themselves. In some cases, they found firemen, but they were beyond saving.
Firehouse: The FEMA teams are coming in. You gave them tasks to go into the surrounding buildings.
Norman: Some of them we deployed onto the pile looking in the voids. As we got more resources in, then we put them to work. We didn’t have enough work for them to accomplish in their normal missions. The FEMA teams made a lot of void entries and did a lot of good reconnaissance, but the type of debris that we encountered here was unlike anything that had ever been encountered. Even earthquakes topple primarily concrete structures. Concrete is easy to breach. A hundred-foot-long I-beam that projects 90 feet into this pile that’s got three-inch-thick members, it’s a box that’s five feet by three feet with three-inch-thick web members, you’re not penetrating. Even with the heaviest torches that we had in all the FEMA caches it would take hours to burn a single hole through that beam. This was something that we needed ,the heaviest industrial-sized equipment available. The grapplers that could lift that. We were we were cutting with the FEMA torches. We were cutting those box beam sections into eight-foot lengths because that was what was able to be moved. When we got the excavators in there, they could take the entire 40-foot-long section in three pieces out in one piece. We had to segment that probably into a dozen pieces, so we were really overwhelmed by the type of construction. It wasn’t a question of punching holes with a pavement breaker or jackhammer and getting through anything. Up to that point, we were burning up a lot of resources and it wasn’t very productive. That was a little bit of controversy within some of the FEMA responders. They wanted to continue burning, but again at that point I made a decision that we were being ineffective. We were putting people in bad places, places that had been searched. We knew we didn’t have any survivors in those areas and we were just burning up oxyacetylene. It was almost a feel-good effort, kind of like the bucket brigades. The bucket brigades that a lot of the police officers and firefighters were manning were ineffective. They didn’t do anything to get to anybody, but it was a feel-good effort. Everybody wanted to pitch in and everybody wanted to help, but in reality and hindsight now, we were moving tiny, tiny fragments of debris. Actually, it was impeding the operation, what we needed to do. We needed to get the big equipment in so we could start moving the big steel out of the way. At one point, we were getting a lot of cell phone calls, people reported to be cranks or psychics. They were in contact somehow with people trapped in the supposedly bombproof Port Authority police bunker. It was not anything that we could ignore. And we would get this call and (Assistant) Chief (Frank) Cruthers sent me, go find that bunker and somebody get to it, get a probe into it, however you do it, get to it. We had the plans for the building. We knew exactly where the supposed bunker was. The bunker was not a bombproof bunker. It had explosion-resistant glass in it, but the walls were Sheetrock walls. It had bulletproof glass so nobody could just shoot in through the window at a cop, but the walls were nothing substantial.
Firehouse: Is that where the fire command station was?
Norman: Yes. We had the plans and we looked at it from every angle of approach and there was 40 feet of solid steel between us and the bunker from any approach. And I had to just tell him there’s nobody that we’re going to get there. If they’re in there, which I seriously doubted, just because I was able to look into the B-4 level from the Marriott garage inside the Trade Center walls. It was just packed solid debris. If they’re in there, we’re not going to get them. We’re not going to get them for months, three months with the heaviest equipment available moving and we were just getting to that area.
Firehouse: By now, you’re now into the recovery mode. How did it change? The first couple of days you had a lot of guys there. You sent sent a lot of people home, so they can get some sleep?
Norman: We had to break off of the recall, absolutely. We had nearly 100% percent of the department. We had 10,000 firemen wanting to come to the site. Some of them who had gone to mustering sites by late that evening, we said we don’t need any more personnel here. The scene was overflowing with people, we didn’t need any more and we sent them back to their firehouses. But the guys in the firehouses, they weren’t going to rest, they weren’t going to sleep knowing that there were all these guys missing and buried. Then we had the problem with all the out-of-town units that came in unsolicited and out of control. We didn’t have any good handle on who was where. They really created a major, major morale problem for us. We would have our people in their firehouses wanting to come dig out their brothers and then we’d tell them no, we don’t need you, we don’t want you here, stay back there, protect the rest of the city, do what you have to do for the rest of the city. And they would turn on the TV and there would be coverage of a firefighter from out of town telling them how he just spent eight hours digging out New York City firemen. The guys were in rebellion. They wanted to come to that pile. We had many, many reports that guys were just saying if you don’t let us go, we’re going to leave the rigs here and go on our cars or we’re going to take the rigs with us and go and you’re not going to stop us. That was a real, real serious problem, especially the first week. Once the guys saw the capabilities of the FEMA teams and that these were not just volunteers who drove in on their own, that they had expertise, that they had all this ability and that we had requested them, that solved some of the problems. It didn’t stop it all because nobody could stop Joe Blow from giving an interview out in the street. The FEMA personnel were very disciplined that way. They didn’t give interviews off the cuff. They explained that they were part of the system and so on. But anybody who put a turnout coat and a helmet on and walked down outside the fence in the perimeter area was interviewed by some news network. A lot of them never spent any time at all on the pile, but they showed up in fireman’s gear and now they’re telling guys what a great job they did. We had cases of people arrested as impostors. Some of it made the news about the guy who was living up in I think 16 Truck quarters. Absolute impostors that got their hands on some turnout gear. Security was a major issue for us. We went through many many types of IDs. It created a couple of problems. One was without it, anybody and his brother walked into the scene. Right away I requested a company of Marines, active-duty U.S. Marines, for perimeter security and that was rejected. We ended up with police and National Guard. I wanted the Marines because I wanted some 19-year-old kid standing on the corner who, when his sergeant gives him an order, he stands to and nobody passes that point without the proper credentials. Instead, what we got was, well, listen guy, I got a friend of mine in there, or my brother’s in there, and some of that was legit and people let them go. And then there were others who just didn’t really care who showed up dressed as a fireman or a police officer, a mailman, if you had some kind of uniform on, they just waved you in. It took a long time to get security under control. We went through numerous challenges with it. OEM (the city Office of Emergency Management) was in charge of giving out the badges. They hadn’t pre-planned any of that or they had pre-planned it, but they hadn’t pre-arranged any of it. So now to get badges, everybody had to personally report to the pier. The operation at the pier wasn’t set up. Everybody and his brother went through the same line. Rescuers spent hours and hours and hours waiting on line to get their IDs so they could get down into the site. When they get there, they’d see other people walk right past them with no ID at all who weren’t even part of the rescue teams. If you brought a box of sandwiches in, you walked in through the gate on your own. Several times, we changed it because people were giving out ID badges to anybody who showed up. Now we had badges that basically became useless. Yes, you had a badge, but you didn’t belong getting a badge or maybe your commitment has expired, the things that you could do were no longer needed. We don’t need you coming into the site and gawking anymore. We ended up changing our system of badges several times. Some of the FEMA teams, FEMA teams in uniform on buses with an escort, were stopped at some checkpoints. Other guys, if you just drove two blocks over to the next checkpoint, nobody was there to even guard the gate, so security was an ongoing issue. The threat of secondary issues going on at the site was a severe issue for us. We had no certainty that there wasn’t going to be a secondary attack on all the rescuers working there. It was a challenge.
Firehouse: The recall was stopped. People went home and you went 24 hours on/24 hours off?
Norman: The first few days it was continuous duty and guys would take breaks whenever they could. I probably worked about 30 hours straight the first day and went back, took about three hours off, came back and did another 24, 25 hours-plus. By the Friday when they made me the search manager, all our SOC units were committed there. Their personnel were committed and their apparatus in many cases being destroyed, we didn’t have a place for them to go anyway. We started getting the spare rigs back in service and we started getting the units rotated out. Of course, with the losses that we had suffered in the SOC units – we lost 94 people out of Special Operations. We had a lot of concern about how are we going to man the units. We had units where two platoons were wiped out, so the question was where are we going to get the people from to man these units. Tommy Richardson and the staff worked out a schedule where we looked at it. We lost almost 30% of our personnel, but that left us with enough to do a three-platoon system. We lost one-quarter of our personnel. We could put the other three-quarters back in as three shifts instead of four and keep us operational. By the second Sunday, the 23rd, we were still doing 24 on and 24 off. By the 23rd, we were looking to go into the three-group chart that we’re in now. We’ll be returning back to our 25-group chart. It took us a long time to rebuild. We had four classes of people through the hazmat tech and rescue technician school.
Firehouse: Now, you’re filling the officer ranks?
Norman: Yes. We’ve had plenty of officers come in. We’ve had a lot of people promoted out of the system who have come back to help us after the attack. Some of the people again had to be trained. We’re still rebuilding. It’s going to take a long time to get us back where we were before. I used to tell guys it takes two years to turn an experienced firefighter into a rescue firefighter, so this isn’t going to happen overnight. But the training that they’re getting is certainly going to be helpful. They’re very highly motivated people. The guys who are coming in here, they want to do the right thing.
Firehouse: You had meetings several times a day at the Duane Street command post. Can you tell me who attended those meetings and what was discussed?
Norman: The 5 o’clock meeting in the evening was the planning meeting. What we did there was reviewed the operations that had occurred up to that point and then planned the actions for the next day’s tour. Overnight, the incident management staff wrote up the planning process meetings of the planning notes and developed the action plan for the coming tour. Seven o’clock the next morning, we’d brief everybody on the actions for the day. After the 7 o’clock meeting, usually by 8:30, we had a safety meeting. The 5 o’clock meeting, the planning meeting, involved just a few key organizations, the fire department, DDC (Department of Design and Construction), the Port Authority, police department, National Guard. The health department I don’t think was involved at that point. Certainly the FEMA incident support team was involved. And that was a problem because FEMA representative Fred Endrikat was also supposed to be at another meeting, a FEMA IST (Incident Support Team) meeting, basically the same times each day just because the planning process works at the end of each shift and at the beginning of each shift so that was a little bit of a problem. We needed more help. The next morning, the 7 o’clock meeting was for everybody. Every agency that was involved had a representative there.
Firehouse: How many people would you say would be at that meeting?
Norman: Fifty. Usually one from each organization except for the key players. The Port Authority had several reps. Port Authority police had one or two reps. NYPD had two or three reps. The fire department obviously had a large staff. The 8:30 or 9 o’clock safety meeting was representatives from the contractors and involved directly DDC, the Port Authority, the fire department, discussing specific safety issues. Then there were the myriad meetings throughout the day for specific events or purposes.
Firehouse: When you needed equipment or supplies, was it delivered to the scene?
Norman: OEM was the clearinghouse for requesting resources. Some of the resources that we had in-house we handled ourselves. The Technical Services Division under Robin Mundy Sutton did a terrific job of delivering stocks of expendables and tools and anything that they had in-house and some of the stuff that we had purchased contracts with vendors they were able to bring in. A lot of vendors pulled the old softshoe on us, gave us the fast one – they brought in truckloads of tools and equipment and said here, this is for you guys, this is a donation.
Firehouse: Then they turned around?
Norman: And two and three months later we were getting bills from them. That upset me greatly. Like I say, most of the purchasing was done through OEM. We also had great resource later on into the incident after a couple of weeks into the incident, the federal government brought in these interagency incident management teams, basically wildland firefighting logistics teams. The first one was from the southwest region, New Mexico and Arizona, and they were terrific. These are people who have a lot of experience running these campaign-type operations which we never do. If we have a fire that goes beyond one shift, something’s wrong, so we don’t do this. We didn’t require relief. We provided our own relief. We didn’t require a large quantity of tools or equipment. This was very different for us. The incident management team took over our logistics operation, handling it, setting it up for us, maintaining inventory controls and tracking. They were an excellent resource. As a matter of fact, I took a picture from the command post. We had Cruthers and (Deputy Chief Peter) Hayden and (Deputy Chief) Charlie Blaich. Blaich is huddled up with the guy from the U.S. Park Service and another guy from the IMT (Incident Management Team) from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I had to take the picture. I’m going to use it in the chief’s command course because if you had told anybody on September 10th that you would have people from the U.S. Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service helping us run an incident this heavily involved in our command structure, everybody would have said you’re out of your mind, it could never happen. And here they were and they did a great job.
Firehouse: As things sort of got back to normal, did they have 100 guys at the scene every day?
Norman: Originally, we had about 225 people at the site each day.
Firehouse: Was that a day tour or 24-hour tour?
Norman: Twenty-four, around each shift.
Firehouse: So a day and a night shift?
Norman: Day and a night shift. Initially actually, it was working on eight-hour rotations, I believe. Then it went to a 12-hour tour.
Firehouse: Is that when they were reporting to Shea Stadium (in Queens)?
Firehouse: OK, we’re at 225 a day each shift, eight-hour rotation into 12 hours. The guys reported to Shea Stadium. They were on buses. They were outfitted and then they went down there. Later, it was reduced?
Norman: To about 100. The commitment has been that it this continues as long as we need them. Certainly, as the work site was shrinking, we didn’t need that many people. Buildings 4 and 5 were cleared. They were searched. They were down to the ground level. There was nothing to be done in those sites. Six was almost to that stage and all the accessible areas were searched. The commitment has been that we’re going to try to get every last body. When the thing is down to the ground level, that’s when our last commitment will end. But we may only have an engine for the last month or thereabouts. When we’re not digging through heavy steel, when there’s no need for any specialized equipment, we’re not going to have it there.
Firehouse: I heard they found Ladder 4?
Norman: I saw some TV footage of it down in the fourth subbasement covered by the pedestrian bridge between Banker’s Trust and the concourse, on the south side, right at the south edge of the slurry wall.
Firehouse: That would be right by the Engine 10 and Ladder 10 quarters?
Norman: Very close to 10 and 10, just actually west of 10 and 10, about 100 yards. We’re digging throughout the entire area. I mean because of the extensive engineering that has to go into it. The thing has to be excavated relatively evenly so that the foundation walls don’t cave in. As the debris is removed all the way down, there’s tremendous hydraulic pressure behind that wall pushing in. As a matter of fact, one of the fellows told me that as they drilled a hole in to sink one of the tie rods and they pulled the drill bit out, water came squirting out and everybody looked at it kind of nervously and it’s routine, we’re going to stick a rod in there and anchor it into the bedrock and that will hold the wall in place, but there is that tremendous pressure. You can’t just excavate in one particular area until you get to the bottom. We have to go down and tie the wall back in stages as it goes. There’s an awful lot of investigation still to be done. I mean the department has started it. They’ve started interviewing everybody who was on the scene prior to the collapse trying to gain insights, trying to record for investigation as well as for historic documentation purposes. I mean the investigation isn’t aimed at Monday-morning quarterbacking. From what I can see, it’s aimed at gaining lessons learned and preventing it from happening again if, God forbid, anything similar ever happened. I was told yesterday by Chief (of Operations Sal) Cassano that there will be a fact-finding commission established. He has six people under Chief Meyers who will be doing an analysis of what happened.
Firehouse: What about the FEMA teams? Will a lot of things be looked at in that part of the operations?
Norman: Yes. Right after each deployment, each of the teams is asked to submit a list of comments or items for discussion about what happened. They’re given to the FEMA staff who then collates them. And in list form they’re discussed first by the Incident Support Team. And then there’s a task force leaders meeting, again, for those people to sit down and discuss them.
Firehouse: Were there any tools that you saw that worked particularly well?
Norman: We had a Holmatro hand-powered combination jaws and shear which we used for cutting rebar, cutting the tubular steel, cutting cable. That seemed to work well because of the places that we had to go with it. It was light enough and portable and it had enough power to do a lot of good. I went through battery-powered sawzalls – I probably saw 50 or 100 of them abandoned up on top of the north tower when we evacuated people off of there and fire ended up coming up and burning them up. We burned up 100 sawzalls, but they were invaluable. One of the things that we talked about with Tech Services is creating mobile tool cache similar to what we have in place down at the Trade Center now. We have a van that is stocked with batteries, batteries on charge, disposables, the blades, extra sawzalls. At a scaffold collapse and again at the plane crash in Rockaway, that van proved its worth where we could quickly get a stock delivered to the scene. That’s something that we’re definitely working on.