"The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] started taking air quality samples but it didn't take air monitoring to tell you it was bad," Norman said. "You got a metallic taste in your mouth that just wouldn't go away."
There was difficulty deciding when it was time to move from rescue operations to recovery as well, Norman said, noting there have been incidents of people surviving up to 18 days trapped in collapses.
But the World Trade Center collapses were different in that the floors had pancaked, leaving very few survivable void spaces.
As FDNY crews worked on the pile during the rescue and recovery efforts, firefighters from around the region backfilled the stations and covered for all the other calls the department had received on a routine bases. Norman said that system worked for a while and he's grateful for the help, but there were people working in places where they had no idea where they were or the challenges they faced. It was an imperfect system, but they made it work.
"I thank you with all my heart for all you did for us during that time," Norman said. When all was said and done, more than two million tons of debris had been removed and still, there are several hundred victims where no remains have been identified or found.
"That site has to remain a national treasure," Norman said. "There are human remains there that may never be recovered.... We all went through the toughest thing to ever happen in the fire service and we made it. Working for FDNY is still the greatest job on Earth. We are going to be OK as an organization."