Battalion Chief John Norman

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

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.