FDNY At Ground Zero Part 2

The FEMA teams made a lot of void entries and did a lot of good reconnaissance, but the type of debris that we encountered here was unlike anything that had ever been encountered. Even earthquakes topple primarily concrete structures. Concrete is easy...


The FEMA teams made a lot of void entries and did a lot of good reconnaissance, but the type of debris that we encountered here was unlike anything that had ever been encountered. Even earthquakes topple primarily concrete structures. Concrete is easy to breach. A hundred-foot-long I-beam that...


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The FEMA teams made a lot of void entries and did a lot of good reconnaissance, but the type of debris that we encountered here was unlike anything that had ever been encountered. Even earthquakes topple primarily concrete structures. Concrete is easy to breach. A hundred-foot-long I-beam that projects 90 feet into this pile that's got three-inch-thick members, it's a box that's five feet by three feet with three-inch-thick web members, you're not penetrating. Even with the heaviest torches that we had in all the FEMA caches it would take hours to burn a single hole through that beam. This was something that we needed ,the heaviest industrial-sized equipment available. The grapplers that could lift that.

We were we were cutting with the FEMA torches. We were cutting those box beam sections into eight-foot lengths because that was what was able to be moved. When we got the excavators in there, they could take the entire 40-foot-long section in three pieces out in one piece.

We had to segment that probably into a dozen pieces, so we were really overwhelmed by the type of construction. It wasn't a question of punching holes with a pavement breaker or jackhammer and getting through anything.

Up to that point, we were burning up a lot of resources and it wasn't very productive. That was a little bit of controversy within some of the FEMA responders. They wanted to continue burning, but again at that point I made a decision that we were being ineffective. We were putting people in bad places, places that had been searched. We knew we didn't have any survivors in those areas and we were just burning up oxyacetylene. It was almost a feel-good effort, kind of like the bucket brigades. The bucket brigades that a lot of the police officers and firefighters were manning were ineffective. They didn't do anything to get to anybody, but it was a feel-good effort. Everybody wanted to pitch in and everybody wanted to help, but in reality and hindsight now, we were moving tiny, tiny fragments of debris. Actually, it was impeding the operation, what we needed to do. We needed to get the big equipment in so we could start moving the big steel out of the way.

At one point, we were getting a lot of cell phone calls, people reported to be cranks or psychics. They were in contact somehow with people trapped in the supposedly bombproof Port Authority police bunker. It was not anything that we could ignore. And we would get this call and (Assistant) Chief (Frank) Cruthers sent me, go find that bunker and somebody get to it, get a probe into it, however you do it, get to it.

We had the plans for the building. We knew exactly where the supposed bunker was. The bunker was not a bombproof bunker. It had explosion-resistant glass in it, but the walls were Sheetrock walls. It had bulletproof glass so nobody could just shoot in through the window at a cop, but the walls were nothing substantial.

Firehouse: Is that where the fire command station was?

Norman: Yes. We had the plans and we looked at it from every angle of approach and there was 40 feet of solid steel between us and the bunker from any approach. And I had to just tell him there's nobody that we're going to get there. If they're in there, which I seriously doubted, just because I was able to look into the B-4 level from the Marriott garage inside the Trade Center walls. It was just packed solid debris. If they're in there, we're not going to get them. We're not going to get them for months, three months with the heaviest equipment available moving and we were just getting to that area.

Firehouse: By now, you're now into the recovery mode. How did it change? The first couple of days you had a lot of guys there. You sent sent a lot of people home, so they can get some sleep?

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