Battalion Chief John Norman

From the April 2002 Firehouse MagazineBattalion Chief John Norman Special Operations Command - 22 yearsFirehouse: Please describe how you became involved.

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?