9-11 Issue Introduction - Part II

Firehouse: Did they all get killed? Pfiefer: Yes. Firehouse: You couldn't find anybody from 33? Pfiefer: Right. Firehouse: Was that very chilling for you? Photo Courtesy of FEMA The fire department was...

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Pfiefer: Yes.

Firehouse: You couldn't find anybody from 33?

Pfiefer: Right.

Firehouse: Was that very chilling for you?

Photo Courtesy of FEMA
The fire department was divided into two divisions after the attack. One division was designated for firefighting and the other for rescue and removal operations at the site. Initially, 1,200 firefighters were detailed to the World Trade Center site on various shifts.

Pfiefer: You get that sunken feeling in your stomach, a sinking feeling. My wife's at home watching the whole thing on TV, knowing I'm there, seeing the towers collapse, and she wound up saying to my aunt that she's a widow. It was very traumatic for her. She was picking up my kids at school and she broke down crying because I couldn't get any word out to her. Cell phones weren't operating. I couldn't get a cell site. I didn't get her. I had to go through my aunt. I couldn't get my parents. It was just kind of hit and miss with phones lines until after 3 o'clock. I was able to get word out. It was very emotional when I came home because I had worked for 40 hours. I got home around midnight. It was very emotional, a lot of hugs and tears.

Firehouse: How about your car, was it destroyed?

Pfiefer: About the size of a dime. I don't know if they even found it. The number of times I had to send the aide back for the repeater radio, he's dodging bodies and so on, and he was a covering aide. He did a fabulous job. For somebody for his first day, he was very good.

It's kind of strange, Ladder 1, Engine 7. We were the first ones there. Only 10 beat us in, by seconds, and we were just able to make it somehow. I had two buildings fall.

Firehouse: Let me ask how you were organized, how you got companies down there or sectored it.

Pfiefer: Captain Justin Werner from the GIS unit produced a map. We just had four sectors on it. From that, the next map, was four sectors with a grid box, so now we could locate or document where we found people or things.

After that, we got real sophisticated and went into the GPS stuff, the handheld computers. That was only one small portion of it, but it illustrates how you go from very sketchy to a very fine system. That's how the command structure worked. It went from four guys thrown together where Cruthers was the incident commander. Hayden was his exec, I wound up being the planning chief and Blaich had the logistics. And then we had the whole operational scheme working.

Firehouse: Did you work every day?

Pfiefer: Virtually, it was every day, long days, occasional day off and then using the FEMA teams to help us out with all this. The whole incident command thing is a whole other deal on how we developed it and how it came through. There are many different parts to it. I guess it just expanded to be the largest incident the country every had. The fire department had to grow with that change.

We wound up with three floors where we would have an interagency briefing in the morning with 100 people in the room. We would have the main command on the second floor, the general staff on the second floor and then the FEMA people on the third floor and in remote locations. We tapped into Pier 92. And FEMA also operated out of the Javits Center. It got big quite quickly.

Firefighter Peter Blaich
Ladder 123 (was in Engine 9 on 9/11)
Two years

I came in for the day tour, so I got there about 8 o'clock and relieved the guy on the backup on the engine. A fireman, Ray Hayden, was actually standing in front of quarters and he saw what he thought was a small plane and then an explosion right into north tower. You could just make out the tips of the towers from the firehouse on Canal Street, so he got everybody in the house on standby and we were waiting to be dispatched, which we never were. Then, at that moment, it flashed on the news that the north tower was on fire. We weren't dispatched yet, but Hayden turned everybody out. We took the satellite because we had the satellite with us. 6 Truck went. 9 Engine went and Satellite 1 went.

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