When the Towers Fell

When the dust started to clear hours after the collapse of towers No. 1 and No.2 of the World Trade Center, it was apparent that the Fire Department of New York was in serious trouble.   Three hundred and forty-three members were dead or missing...


            19 Standard FDNY pumpers
            4 High Pressure high-rise pumpers
            3 Squad/pumpers
28 Ladder Company Apparatus, Seagrave Fire Apparatus
            5 tractor/trailer aerials
            6 75’ Aerialscope tower ladders
            17 rear mount 100’ ladders
These were in addition to the 26 rear mount and 9 tower ladders on order before the incident
 
11 E-One/Saulsbury Fire-Rescue apparatus
            5 26’ Heavy Rescue units
            2 Tactical Support units built on donated International chassis
            2 High Rise Support units built on donated Mack MC chassis
            1 Satellite LDH hose wagon built on donated Mack MC chassis
            1 walk-around Freightliner demonstrator rescue
Other units
            1 American LaFrance Eagle pumper that was a demonstrator built to FDNY specs
            and was about to be placed in service before the incident, was purchased
            1 Hackney Air Mask service unit
            13 GMC Suburbans
            16 Ford Crown Victoria sedans in addition to 24 already on order
            39 Ford Excursions in addition to 10 donated by Ford Motor Co.
 
Later on, other apparatus arrived, built to FDNY specifications by various builders, most using labor donated by these companies’ personnel.
            1 General rescue unit built on donated Mack MR chassis
            1 Luverne/Spartan pumper
            1 Ferrara pumper
 
The department was battered, but was certainly not down for the count. 
 
A number of polices and procedures were in place before the attack that helped the department get back in service rapidly.
 
The department had all apparatus on an 11-year replacement cycle, so most components such as engines, transmissions and pumps had a full range of parts available. Because replacement apparatus is ordered on a regular basis, it is much easier to standardize on components and body designs, making parts interchangeable between units. 
 
An example of this is that the department had 80 windshields in stock, more than the apparatus manufacturers.
 
Three rigs had blown diesel engines, which burned up when dust and debris plugged their air filters. These were rebuilt in the apparatus, and returned to service within a week and a half of the incident.
 
A common problem with apparatus brought in to the shops from the World Trade Center site was burned out cabs, caused by burning debris entering through open windows. While the bodies might be serviceable, the chassis was not. These units became donors for rigs suffering only impact damage.
 
Many rigs were damaged beyond repair. Two had so much damage, shop personnel could not tell what company they were assigned to. All shop personnel had to go on were serial numbers from the axles, which the manufacturer’s then traced through purchase orders and bills of materials to identify the VIN number.
 
The key to the FDNY apparatus recovery was the remarkable performance of shop personnel, augmented by members of the New England Fire Mechanics association and manufacturers’ technicians.
 
An incredible 80 pieces of FDNY apparatus were removed from the WTC scene, cleaned, repaired, tested and placed back in service with four days of the incident.
 
It’s hard to believe that only a few years before, the department successfully fought off an effort to privatize the Fleet Maintenance operation.
 
At a hastily called news conference on the evening of September 11th, Fire Commissioner Tom Von Essen said with determination, “it’s a devastating thing. The department will recover, but I don’t know how.” 
 
That it recovered so rapidly is a tribute by its men and woman to those 343 members who lost their life 10 years ago. May they rest in peace.