For as long as I have been a firefighter, FDNY has stood as the symbol for the fire service 'best of the best'. After 9/11, that resounding truth rings even louder than ever. As I watched the television as both Towers collapsed, I knew without a doubt that my brother and sister firefighters were in peril. On that horrific day, firefighters and police officers made the ultimate sacrifice in the single largest catastrophic attack made on the United States mainland. Many have said that it resembled a war zone even to the extreme as to a resemblance of a nuclear blast. No one has ever imagined that not one but two 110-story skyscrapers could be leveled in such a fashion.
While the events that unfolded on 9/11 were horrific, the statements made by a 9/11 Commission member, "...that the lack of "command and control and communications" in New York was a "scandal" that "is not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city", were a travesty to all of those who lost their lives in the line of duty, especially the FDNY commanders who were among them. As these comments were being made, I listened in disbelief.
It's easy to criticize in hindsight and peer down from a comfortable and safe seat but when it comes to FDNY and the fire service in general, the best of America shines through as one of its brightest stars. Isn't it the Commission's mission to ask the tough questions, to learn how to do better in the future - not place blame when all of the testimony and facts are not even complete?
Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani said it best when he told the 9/1l Commission its job is preventing a new attack, not assigning blame. "Our enemy is not each other, but the terrorists who attacked us," Giuliani said.
Comparisons between the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were made with vastly different analysis. Other than the fact that both locations were under a similar attack, the characteristics otherwise was a world apart in scope. However, there were similarities. Firefighters, police officers and civilians worked together in very dangerous situations to literally save thousands of lives.
This does highlight one very important point, which must be understood. As demonstrated in these hearings someone is going to be blamed. NOTHING IS SACRED ANYMORE. Is it appropriate? NO. Will it happen? YES. Does it serve any useful purpose? NO. Will it occur anyway? YES.
While the criticisms of the day leave a bitter taste, fire service funding still remains unfulfilled. The landmark funding of last year's Fire Act Grant to $750M cannot be ignored but it is billions of dollars short of what is needed by America's Fire Service.
Communications problems are not new, for decades fire service and law enforcement agencies have lobbied Congress for additional radio spectrum and to date there has been no EFFECTIVE legislation to make that spectrum available. Until television stations are forced to move off of the 700 MHz band unconditionally, no progress will be made.
Approximately 2 years ago, fire and police officials identified a radio interference problem within the 800 MHz band caused by frequency assignments to close to commercial wireless services on the same band. The Consensus Plan was submitted on behalf of the major public safety agencies to eliminate radio interference, to date no decision has been made. (For more details on radio interference visit: http://cms.firehouse.com/content/article/article.jsp?sectionId=13&id=28909)
While there were many things that could have been done differently as can be at most any emergency incident, firefighters and police officers must make life and death decisions within split seconds, based on the existing conditions, their knowledge, training, experience and on-scene resources. When even one child is lost in a fire, firefighters routinely relive the experience in their mind over and over asking and struggling within themselves, whether they did everything humanly possible. You cannot even imagine the struggle that the surviving FDNY firefighters continue to live through.
To honor those firefighters and police officers that have made the ultimate sacrifice and to protect those that place themselves in harms way today - firefighters and police officers must be prepared, trained, and equipped. They must practice for the very worst and when called upon deliver the very best protection to America's citizens and communities.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a thought from my very good friend Chief Billy Goldfeder, "It is not our job as fire officers to be friends with our firefighters but most importantly to make the tough decisions that will ultimately insure that every firefighter returns home to their loved ones in as good as or better condition than when they came to the fire station - if in the end we're also friends, that is a welcomed blessing."
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