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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Reports were now being received by fire alarm dispatchers of numerous occupants trapped on the upper floors of both towers. This information was relayed to the command post and the field communications unit. As more and more apparatus arrived, units were given assignments into Tower 1 and 2 and the Marriott Hotel, building 3. An additional five alarms were requested to respond to Tower 1. At this time, 68 engines, 25 ladder companies, five rescue companies and nearly 20 chiefs were operating or on the way.
Faced with a huge rescue problem, numerous floors of fires and uncertainty of what was going to happen next, a decision was made to bring back all off-duty members. The first 15 alarms were just a start at what was going to be needed at the site. The first recall of the entire fire department in more than 50 years was made. Off-duty firefighters and officers were instructed to report to their firehouses. (During blackouts in 1965 and 1977, partial recalls were ordered to augment available manpower. The last total recall of the FDNY was ordered on Dec. 26, 1947, during a severe blizzard.) The second-alarm assignment waiting on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn-Battery-Tunnel was requested to respond to the scene. An additional second alarm assignment was requested to south of the trade center area.
At 9:59 A.M., Tower 2, the second tower to be struck, suddenly collapsed. The entire downtown section of Manhattan was covered in debris, smoke and a dust cloud. Numerous civilians trapped on the upper floors were killed along with the firefighters and police officers who were trying to assist them.
Many victims were trapped under tons of debris. Some were rescued, and while they were being attended to, Tower 1 collapsed. Some who were lucky to make it out or survive the first collapse were not so lucky the second time. The second collapse damaged many surrounding buildings. Twenty-five engines, 15 ladder companies, numerous special units, 133 police vehicles and ambulances were destroyed or severely damaged. Estimates of the vehicles lost by the police and fire department are close to $47 million.
Early estimates said several thousand people were missing at the site, including 343 firefighters, EMTs, officers and chiefs. The Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) was missing 37 police officers. The NYPD was missing 23. As of mid-March, about 160 FDNY firefighters had been recovered, as were eight NYPD and 17 PAPD officers and three EMS personnel. Thousands of pieces of human remains have been recovered, but not identified.
The fire department changed its shifts to 24 hours on and 24 hours off, then to 24 hours on and 48 hours off. The fire department promoted 168 officers on Sept. 16 to fill the void left by the missing members of the department. Members of Federal Emergency Management Agency Urban Search and Rescue (FEMA USAR) teams responded from across the country to help search for victims. FDNY firefighters were assigned to a task force to help search voids for victims, remove debris, extinguish fires and check debris removed from the scene for victims.
Operations continue at the site around the clock. The debris field rises to eight stories in some areas and reaches seven stories below grade in others.
Numerous buildings were damaged, including the 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story building that suffered severe damage after the second collapse. The fire extended to the building. Because of the severe damage, the fire burned unchecked until the building collapsed hours later.
The first job of the firefighters who reported to the World Trade Center from home or on additional alarms was to look for live victims. Only one victim was located on the second day. No one else was found alive.
Construction crews and steelworkers were helpful in assisting firefighters. Since the incident, the perimeter of the scene has been cleared of debris. There are now 50 cranes and other types of large equipment removing heavy steel and other debris. This is the only way to check for victims. Debris is removed in a relay fashion, with numerous dump trucks waiting to be loaded so they can dump their loads on barges for removal to other sites. Estimates say clearing the site will take from six months to a year. Firefighters, although fewer in numbers, remain on the site to search for their fallen members.
The loss of 343 firefighters is the worst disaster to strike the FDNY or any other U.S. fire department.