Sept. 11, 2001 – or now known to many as just 9/11 – is a date which will be remembered long after most of us reading this are gone. The worst terrorist attack to strike the United States occurred when two hijacked commercial passenger jetliners crashed into the upper floors of New York City’s...
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The fire department is organized into nine divisions, 49 battalions, the Safety Operating Battalion, the Special Operations Battalion, 203 engine companies, 143 ladder companies, five rescue companies, seven squad companies, three fireboats, a hazardous materials unit and many other specialized units. There are a total of 479 units in the FDNY. The department also operates the Emergency Medical Service.
In 2001, the FDNY had 11,112 uniformed personnel. More than 2,100 firefighters are on duty during each shift, operating from over 220 firehouses. Firefighters work two day shifts from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M., are off for two days, then work two night shifts from 6 P.M. to 9 A.M. The FDNY protects over 8 million people in a 321-square-mile area. The average response time is 4:43 minutes citywide. Last year, the FDNY responded to 57,443 fires, 328,034 emergencies, 51,544 false alarms and 3,157 serious fires, totaling 437,021 alarms.
The New York City Emergency Medical Service was founded in 1970 as part of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corp. The private institutions operating ambulances in the citywide system came to be known as “voluntary hospitals.” The city-owned portion of the joint system was transferred to the fire department in March 1996. Fire companies became first responders during the same year, implementing a three-tier response system involving first responder firefighters, basic life support (BLS) emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and advanced life support (ALS) paramedics.
The EMS program includes units operating from 26 municipal stations and 41 voluntary hospitals. The ambulance deployment program as of Jan. 13, 2002, provides for 584 municipal/EMS tours per day, 142 on Tour 1 (midnight to 8 A.M.) and 221 on each of the next two eight-hour tours.
ALS personnel perform 24% of those tours. The voluntary hospitals provide additional 354 tours per day, 38% of the total, of which 47% is at the ALS level. Forty-six volunteer ambulance corps in the city augment the EMS program. These volunteer BLS units may be called upon when no EMS ambulances are immediately available in a given area, or to assist at a mass-casualty incident or special event. EMS ambulances are assigned to 29 stations and outposts, the majority of which are hospitals. The city owns 434 ambulances and a contract was signed in 2001 for the delivery of 80 ambulances a year for the next five years. EMS Operations responded to 1,097,564 incidents in 2001.
The World Trade Center was the site of a 1993 terrorist bombing in which six people were killed and hundreds were injured when a large bomb exploded in an underground parking garage. It took 16 alarms of companies to extinguish the fire and evacuate the twin towers and the hotel. Electricity was knocked out and units had to walk up 110 flights above the street to check on trapped occupants. Units had to work their way six levels below the street to search the rubble after the bombing caused a partial collapse of the underground spaces.
Several multiple-alarm fires occurred in the towers, one involving an electrical fire that communicated to several floors above the original location in utility service spaces. In July 2001, Rescue 1, under the command of Captain Terry Hatton, with first alarm units responded to the top of the south tower to free a child whose leg was caught in a ride near the observation deck. Another serious incident occurred before 9/11 when an elevator car had a serious failure and Rescue Company 1 had to secure the elevator car in the shaft near the 78th floor.
9/11: The Initial Alarm
Chief Joseph Pfiefer of Battalion 1 has 20 years of service with the FDNY, including five years in the First Battalion. Pfiefer was operating at a natural gas leak with Engines 7 and 6 and Ladders 8 and 1 at Church and Lispenard streets. A video cameraman was riding in the battalion vehicle. A crew had been in the process of filming a documentary on a probationary firefighter assigned to Tower Ladder 1. Whenever the firefighter worked, the crew rode with Battalion 1, which was located in the same firehouse.
There was an odor of natural gas in the area and the gas utility Con Edison was requested. A low-flying jet roared over their heads. As everyone on the scene looked up, the jet struck the north side of the north tower of the World Trade Center, creating a huge fireball. Pfiefer responded and took the units on scene with him. Pfiefer radioed the Manhattan fire alarm dispatcher, requesting a second alarm to report to the Trade Center and 20 seconds later asking for a third alarm to stage at Vesey and West streets.